Responding to the Word of God – Nehemiah 8:9-12

Don’t Just Read The Word Of God – Respond To It

9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”

12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

Massive Mourning

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

As we read the word of God, our hearts should react.  The Israelites who were gathered before Ezra when Nehemiah was the governor over Jerusalem after the wall was rebuilt in fifty-two days experienced great mourning when they heard the word of God read to them.  Jesus indicated that this was to be our state of heart as well when we hear the word of God and we realize that we are falling short of it.

The word of God is not merely words inspired by God and written by men for us to give historical records and inspirational thoughts; rather, the word of God is living and active:

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The word of God is able to show us exactly who we are in our inward attitudes as well as our outer words and deeds.  Scripture is able to accurately pinpoint the weaknesses and failings in our character, thought processes, and beliefs.  It is able to do so because it is both alive and absolute truth:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

When our hearts respond to the word of God, we are ready to be trained by it.

Supernatural Strength

Nehemiah records that the ordeal in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem was taxing on the people.  Anyone who has been under the threat of violence, where working with one hand and your other hand on your weapon is not a very peaceful ordeal.  The Israelites experience this even today on a near day-to-day basis with the threat of suicide bombers, shootings, beatings, and missiles being directed towards them.

The last thing that God’s people needed right now was to become overwhelmed with dread at the thought of just how far short they were from the glory of God.  Nehemiah commanded that the people not grieve on this day, for it was holy to them.  They were to embrace the joy of the Lord.  This is their strength, and our strength as well.  God has sovereignly paid for our sins with the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary.  Our natural response is to mourn over our sin.  But we should then embrace the joy of our salvation, for it is in that joy that we have strength.

Pain, suffering, misery, mourning, and many other physically and emotionally draining situations sap our strength from us.  When we have joy in hope (the certainty of outcome, not wishful thinking), we are able to look at these difficulties and put them in their proper perspective.  Until we are able to grasp the joy of the Lord, we will be subject to the storms of emotion.  Life is hard.  For many, life seems impossible.  When every breath is a challenge, and the situations of life threaten to rob every aspect of normalcy in life from you, only the joy of the Lord can lift you out of the pit of despair.

Stay Still

The Levites (the Levitical priests) had counseled the people to be still.  Elsewhere in the word of God, that phrase is used as well:

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

But what does it mean to “be still”?  One of the best translations of this phrase is “cease striving”.  As humans, we have a desire and drive to do things our way.  We tend to rely upon the gifts and resources that God has provided to us rather than on the provider of the gifts and resources.  When we rely upon God, we will cease striving.  Our hearts will “be still”, for we will be expectantly waiting for God to act, rather than acting on our own.

Cheerfully Celebrate

God had done a mighty work in and through those who had rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem.  The Israelites were told to celebrate this great victory that God had given to them.  Do we take the time to celebrate what God has done in our lives?  Do we publicly acknowledge the victory God has given us over our enemies?  Do we embrace the joy of the Lord in such a way that it is winsome to others?  How we respond to what God has done and is doing in our lives is very important to God.

Embrace Erudition

All of this was very important because of one thing: the people had understood the meaning of the word of God.  We too should seek and embrace the word of God and its meaning in our lives.  Learning the word of God should be foremost in our minds:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

[Blessed is the one…] whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.

my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
“Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
I also will ignore your children.”

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I living in the joy of the Lord?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, Your joy is made complete in me through the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ, for my sins.  Thank You for this gift, and for Your joy.  Help me to know Your word and to embrace Your word in my heart and my mind.  May Your law be on my lips when I first wake in the morning until I go to sleep at night.  Help me to understand Your word better so that I can live it out in my life.  Help me to cease striving, and to fully receive Your Spirit without measure.  Give me the desire and ability to die to myself so that the Holy Spirit can display Your character through the life that You have provided to me.  Help me to rely upon You more each day and less upon myself.  Help my heart to be attuned to Your word and Your direction so that I might live in a way that pleases You more.  Forgive me for my sins, and help me to have a heart that is sensitive to You.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

God’s Favor – Isaiah 61:1-3

God Displays His Favor Upon His Son

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion-
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Faithfully Fulfilled

God has faithfully fulfilled many of His promises to us already in scripture.  Jesus Christ fulfilled the first part of this scripture.  He has indeed fulfilled it:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Jesus proclaimed that He was there to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, not to abolish them.  Jesus faithfully fulfilled all that was prophesied about Him, down to the minutest detail.  He perfectly fulfilled all scripture about Himself so that the Father could be glorified and so that God would not be mocked, for He is not a liar like men.

Bind the Brokenhearted

Jesus promises to bind the brokenhearted.  And oh, how many woes await us each day!

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

It is a good thing that Jesus has overcome the world!

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

God restores what was broken and lost.  Even though there are consequences for our actions, God is able to restore and bring order and peace into chaos and unrest.

Proclaim Parole

God has freed the prisoners!  We were held in a prison of darkness, because we could not see the light.  Jesus is the light of the world.  Now that we have seen the light, we can join Him in displaying the light.  Lies and deceit keep us from seeing the truth.  Jesus IS the truth:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus doesn’t just model truth; He IS truth.  “The Truth” is a title, not just a reflection of reality.  Jesus is the only accurate model of unvarnished truth that we have.  God has been gracious to proclaim freedom from darkness by sending The Truth into the world.  Now that The Truth has come, we are without excuse.

Value and Vengeance

God has pronounced His favor upon us.  By sending His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, to take the punishment for our sins as He was tortured and crucified, He has given us great mercy and grace – great favor.  He has done so much more than we can imagine!  We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing!  We are more than conquerors in Christ!  No weapon formed against us will prosper, and we will refute every tongue that accuses us, since this is our heritage and vindication from God!  Regardless of our circumstances, we have been greatly blessed!

But there is a flip-side to this.  For those who refuse to accept the Lord’s favor – His mercy and grace, there will be a terrible day of vengeance.  God, after doing everything that He could possibly do to win His image-bearers back over to Himself after His enemies try to drag them away, will eventually need to show the next portion of His character – JUSTICE.  God is a perfectly just God, and He will rule and reign in righteousness.  God cannot abide evil (rebellion against Himself), and He will, after exhausting every effort, bring forth the penalty for disobedience to a perfect and holy God – first, physical death, and finally, eternal separation from Him – complete spiritual death.

Comfort and Console

God greatly desires to comfort and console those who are grieving over their sin.  He will give us oil of joy instead of mourning and a crown of beauty instead of ashes (used by the culture at that time to show great anguish in grief, mourning, and sorrow).  God has provided us, though the sacrifice of the perfect lamb of God, the promised Holy Spirit as our down-deposit for our inheritance.  We have Him to console us, to comfort us, and to guide us.

Towering Trees

God sees us through the robes of righteousness of Christ that have been imputed to us (legally declared to be ours).  As such, He sees us as Oaks of Righteousness.  He sees the righteousness of Christ rather than our filthy rags.  Just like a bank account, we may not see the money, but it is there, registered in our name.  Given the vast wealth of righteousness that is afforded to us through Christ, should we not then incorporate more and more of it into how we live?  Should we not display this immeasurable (spiritual) wealth just as we show off our homes, cars, jewelry, and other items that we seem to hold dear and treasure?

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Do I take the time to try to grasp just how truly rich I am in Christ?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, Your generosity is beyond my comprehension.  You have given us uncountable wealth in Your Son, Jesus Christ, through His sacrifice for us.  Help me to better grasp just how far and wide Your love is for me.  Help me to internalize it, and to rejoice in it, as the cares of this world continually claw at me to drag me down to its depths.  Give me a right understanding of Your word, that I may embrace it more and more each day.  Help me to display to the world Your righteousness, for You have declared me to be an Oak of Righteousness.  Thank You for this and for all things, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?


Notes:

*The word used elsewhere in the scripture for the Gospel means “Good News”.

**During the year of Jubilee, the captives were set free, and land was supposed to be returned to its rightful owners.  Jesus may very well have been declaring that particular year a year Jubilee as God was freeing the captives.

Return to the Lord – Joel 2:12-17

We Need a National Call to Repentance

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
declare a holy fast,
call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people,
consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?'”

Regretful Return

God asks that Christians return to Him in mourning, fasting and prayer:

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Revival in the Church has been a recurring theme throughout the last two thousand years.  Just as Israel returned to God after He disciplined them, they quickly turned from God again and again.  We have a tendency to do the same.  In UNITY, the body of Christ should gather as God’s people and mourn, fast, and pray to God for His deliverance from the evil that has beset us.  And while we are doing that, we need to remember that the justified shall live by faith.

How must we appear to God when we cannot even put aside our differences and get the local bodies of believers to come out in unison and seek the One we call upon for our deliverance together?  Can we not designate a call to repentance?  Are our egos and pride so great that brothers in Christ cannot come together?  How sad must our God be with us.

Compassionate Care

God IS gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and when we return to Him, He relents from sending calamity.  We are told here that God may even be gracious and restore some of what He has taken so that we may be able to give offerings to Him.

In the time that this passage was written, the locusts had destroyed the crops, and the people were facing great hardship.  God needs to get our attention, and what better way than taking away that which He has already provided?  We are God’s children, and we are disciplined like children.  But God relents because of His Mercy and Grace.  We should always remember that.

Sacred Session

In this passage, everyone is asked to gather, regardless of their station or circumstances.  Even the newlyweds are to interrupt their nuptial bliss to participate.  This is not just the church regulars, but all who are called according to God’s name are to gather at the assembly.

And once the assembly is gathered, we are to be consecrated to the Lord.  We are to shed our desires for the things of this world and seek the One who created all things and desires for us to be with Him eternally in the next.  We are to put on Christ; let us remember our calling and do as we are directed.  Is it not disobedience that causes this issue in the first place?  Does God, when His people are doing His will, not protect and proper them?  For what purpose would God, if His people are living according His will, send in their enemies to overtake and destroy His people?  To bring them closer to Him?  If so, where is the evidence in the Bible?

And lest we forget, He reminds us several times:

but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations

He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations

Ardent Appeal

Once we have gathered and have been consecrated, we need to make our impassioned plea to God to spare us lest the nations say, “Where is your God?”  He will not tolerate sin among His people.  He is long-suffering, and waits patiently for us to turn from our sin.  But we should not mistake His patience for a seal of approval.  Let us not give God any reason to display His displeasure at us.

We need to individually and corporately seek out the Lord in tears of repentance, crying out for mercy.  If some of our brothers or sisters won’t join in, we need to pray for them as well, for are we not a royal priesthood?  Where is our longing to be free from sin, united in Christ, seeking the lost sheep, and protecting the flock?  What has happened to harden our hearts so much that we are disconnected from each other and from God?  Let us cry out to Him and beg Him for mercy.  If you hear a voice saying that it is too late, that is not from God;  evaluate everything based on His word, not on your emotions

And the God of mercy will relent and restore what He has taken.  Do not despise His discipline, for all discipline is unpleasant at the time it takes place.  But it will yield a great harvest of righteousness when it has been completed.  Let us seek the Lord for our sanctification and dedicate ourselves to our God in holiness.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask ourselves a question:  Why aren’t we able (or willing) to be united with all of the body of Christ in national prayer, fasting, and repentance in accordance with the will of God?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You are a Holy God, and You cannot tolerate sin.  Place within the hearts of Your people a desire to return to You.  Begin a revival within Your church, and help me to change my heart attitudes to match Yours.  Please help our leaders to unite together and work for unity within the body.  And remember me as I seek Your face, humbling myself in prayer and fasting, desiring that I would be sanctified and live righteously before you.  This I ask and pray in mighty Name of Jesus, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Perspective of God – Isaiah 55:8-9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

This is a form of Hebraic poetry.  It takes the form:

    B   –   B
  /               \
A                   A

Ellis Scolfield writes, “Hebrew poetry is parallel in nature. A Hebrew poet would say something one way and then repeat the same idea later on in different words. These repeats could be a sentence, a paragraph, or even several chapters long. So how can we identify repetitive prophecies when we see them? By recognizing the Hebrew poetic style in which it was written.  [Textual scholars call this type of repetition the bifidic form.]12  (Brackets added for quote reference clarification)

Isaiah reveals to us something that we should already know – God’s thoughts and ways are beyond ours.  We are so bound by time, that we generally don’t have an eternal perspective.  But there are other instances where this is apparent.  Isaiah shows us something unusual in Isaiah 57:1-2:

1 The righteous perish,
    and no one takes it to heart;
the devout are taken away,
    and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
    to be spared from evil.
Those who walk uprightly
    enter into peace;
    they find rest as they lie in death.

We generally think that it is a great tragedy when someone is taken home to be with the Lord, especially if they are young.  But communicating with us through Isaiah the prophet, God says this is a blessing; that the righteous and devout are taken away to be spared from evil.  Oh, how we long for the influence of evil to finally end!  The pain and suffering it causes; its ripple effects sweeping people into chaos like a tsunami rushing inland.  It leaves destruction and loss everywhere it touches.  Rather than having to resist that force, and pick up the broken pieces, they are taken away, where they are with the Lord now and for eternity.

Our perspective is focused on the loss of their companionship, wisdom, fellowship, giftedness, relationship, and other factors in which we are immediately affected.  From God’s perspective, it is for their benefit that they are now with God, and no longer subject to the trials and temptations that afflict us until the glorious second coming of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  In this, we can see our selfishness at our perceived loss rather than their great gain.  And in our grief, sorrow, and mourning, we can all too soon forget that God’s sovereignty and perfect plan are in action, and that we will, in the lens of Eternity, see them again soon enough.

If you are mourning and grieving, your pain is real;  Let God comfort you through it.  And when you emerge on the other side, rejoice!  For He has done a wonderful thing and has blessed your loved one with the privilege of being in His presence and in final rest and peace from the evils of this world, soon to be reunited with you in glory!

 A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, my heart grieves the temporary loss of my friend and loved one.  Help me to work through the pain of loss.  Although I know that I will see them again when Your Beloved Son comes triumphantly in the sky, or possibly even sooner should You bless me with the opportunity to be in Your Presence before that great and terrible day, I am still in shock.  I am numb as I try to process this.  Please comfort me in my pain.  Uphold me, and restore normalcy to my daily routine.  Surround me with Your love as a mother hen gathers her chicks close to her under her wings.  Oh God, how it hurts!  Remember me this day, Lord, and give me the ability to just breathe.  This I ask and pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

[This post is dedicated to T. G., who recently lost his wife]

1 Packer-Tenny-White, The Bible Almanac, 1980, p349.

2 Ellis Scolfield, Bifids and Chiasms, [Unknown], p1.