Grace For The Journey
Times are changing; therefore, should we change with the times? Should we change, for the sake of peace, compromise? T his is the question facing us today. Should we compromise in 2021 and in the future years God gives us? Absolutely not! What, then, should we do, as a church and as individual believers?
We must consider and consult the Scriptures,
Which is the pattern, the plumb line,
And the standard for God’s people.
Today, we will examine Nehemiah 9:18-39, and see what God is telling us through this passage.
Ezra Comes to Jerusalem
In 456 B.C. King Artaxerxes of Persia sent Ezra to God’s people in Jerusalem. Ezra’s long genealogy found in Ezra 7:1-5 tells us not only was Ezra a priest and teacher, but he was also a highly trained theologian, skilled in the Holy Scriptures. Most importantly, though, Ezra was an uncompromising man. He lived in times of continuous change. During his lifetime, most of the Jewish people lived in captivity outside of Israel and many years had gone by since the days of great temple worship in Jerusalem. But Ezra was a man of God, and he would not change his determination to worship, live for, serve God according to the pattern of the Scriptures. No wonder the Jews look upon Ezra as a second Moses, as one who centered the Jews in the word of God.
In Ezra 7:10 we read, “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study of the word of God.”
- The first thing Ezra did was to give himself totally over to the study of the Word of God, even though he was growing up in the faraway land of Babylon.
- Secondly, he gave himself over, not only to the study of God’s word, but to the observance of God’s Word – to do what the Word of God told him to do.
- Thirdly, he devoted his life to teaching the Word of God to others.
If you want power and punch when
You teach the Word of God,
Not only must you study it,
But you also must obey it,
And come under its
Authority and government.
That is what Ezra did.
Ezra was . . .
A man who was well-versed in the Scriptures;
A man who believed the Scriptures;
A man who did what the Scriptures told him;
A man who was uncompromisingly
Centered his life on the Scriptures.
We see these characteristics of Ezra demonstrated by Ezra’s reaction to a situation he found when he arrived in Jerusalem. He was told that the Jewish people were freely and liberally forsaking their wives and marrying pagan women. What was Ezra’s reaction to this news? In Ezra 9:3 we read, “When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled.”
This is what happens to a man of God
Who is immersed in the Word of God.
Rather than treating sin lightly, he was appalled.
Ezra was not a man of compromise.
In verse 4 we read, “Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles, and I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.” What did Ezra do next? Did he tell the Israelites, “Everything is okay. You can go on as normal?” Oh, no! He told the people, in essence, “No deal! You must get rid of your pagan wives! You must amend your ways! You must change, in the light of God’s Word!” How could Ezra speak so forcefully and clearly to these people?
Because he knew that God’s Word
Condemned such intermarriage and
There would be serious consequences
For such behavior. Despite the passage
Of time since the people had gone
Into exile and come back,
Ezra knew that God’s Word
Philosophies may change . . . Science and scholarship may change . . . Sociology and psychology may change . . . But the Word of God does not change, and Ezra knew that God would not tolerate such behavior in His people.
We find a similar reaction in Nehemiah 13 when Nehemiah came back after a twelve-year absence and saw people divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying pagan women. In Nehemiah 13:25, Nehemiah tells of his reaction to those who had married foreign women, “I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair.” As governor, Nehemiah had the authority to do these things. He exercised this authority because he recognized the sinfulness of this behavior.
Jesus did the same thing when he saw problems in the temple. We read that when he came to the temple and saw people buying and selling in the temple courts, he made a whip and drove the sheep and cattle out of the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers, saying, “You have made this temple a den of thieves. It should be a house of prayer!” This is what happens when a person who is immersed in the Word of God sees a life that contradicts the Word of God. He gets angry and begins to deal with the sin.
In Nehemiah 8-10 we read about the real revival brought about, first and foremost . . .
By the people’s desire to
Study the Scripture
Realign their lives to it.
I hope all of us will want to study the Scripture as well. That is where we must start. I pray that we will say, as Ezra did, “I will study the Scripture, I will do what the Scripture commands me, and I will teach the Scripture.”
In Nehemiah 8:1 we read, “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate.” You can still see the Water Gate in Jerusalem today, from which one can go to the Gihon Spring on the east side of Mount Zion. There was a plaza there where the people could assemble. On the first day of the seventh month, which was the Feast of the Trumpets, all the people – men, women, and children – came in total unity as one man to the temple square. Ezra had been teaching the priests and Levites, but now the Holy Spirit moved mightily, and the people came together to hear the Word of the Lord as well. In verse 1 we read, “They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.” Notice, this Bible study was initiated not by Ezra but the people. They begged Ezra, “We want a Bible study. We want to hear what God has to say. Come on, Ezra, preach to us.”
It is a profound blessing for any preacher when his people tell him, “We want to hear what the Bible says, because we know it is the very Word of God. Do not tell us about psychology or physiology or any other subject. We want to know what the God of Israel has commanded, and you know it. You have the Bible! Preacher, tell us what God has to say to us.”
Where did this hunger for the Word of God come from?
The Holy Spirit
In these people.
No one will open the Bible and want to study the Word of God unless the Spirit of God is working in him. Wife, if your husband is opening the Bible, you can praise God. Husband, if your wife is opening the Bible, you can praise God. Parents, if your children are opening the Bible on their own, you should praise the Lord, and rejoice greatly, knowing that perhaps something is happening in their heart and they are beginning to love the Word of God on their own. What great joy we have when we see people opening the Bible! When that happens, we can rest assured that the Holy Spirit is working in them. These types of attitudes and actions demonstrate that God’s local church family is seeking to center their lives on the Word of God, which is unchanging and everlasting, which is truth, which is the Gospel, which alone is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes!
In verse 5 we read, “Ezra opened the book,” meaning the scroll of the Law. When people saw him do this, they all stood up out of reverence for the Word of God (this is the example that sets the practice in our church family to stand when we read the Word of God). In verse 6 we read that Ezra began with prayer for God to bless the preaching of the Word. That is what we must do before we preach or teach or read. We should pray, “Spirit of the living God, open our eyes, that we may behold wondrous things out of Your Word. Enlighten us, we pray, O God.”
In verse 6 we also read that after Ezra prayed, all of a sudden the people lifted their hands and said, “Amen! Amen!” The word “amen” literally means, “So be it; let it be as it is said.” Saying “amen” twice shows intensity. It is not “Amen,” but “Amen and amen,” meaning “We wholeheartedly believe in and accept the Word of God.” What hunger! What thirst! What enthusiasm! What agreement! Ezra had not even read yet, but the people were already proclaiming, “God, speak to us: Your servants are ready to hear!”
In Nehemiah 8:3 we learn that Ezra read for six hours. We are not told what portion of Scripture he read, but perhaps it was the book of Deuteronomy. All the men, women, and children who could understand stood during that time. Can you imagine such a revival?
The Holy Spirit worked
In the hearts of these people
So that they had the mental
And physical strength to hear
The unchanging Word of God
For six hours!
In verse 7 we read that the Levites instructed the people in the Word of God. I believe that Ezra had trained the Levites, and as he read from the Hebrew text, the Levites went around among the people, translating into Aramaic as well as interpreting the meaning of the Word of God so that these people could understand what the Bible was saying. That is why, in my preaching and teaching ministry I practice expository preaching – teaching and preaching verse-by-verse through the Bible. Ministers of the Word should so preach that people can understand the meaning of God’s Word and know what God requires so they can do it. If you do not get anything from the Word of God as it is preached in this way, perhaps you did not want to get anything. When we read the parable of the soils in Matthew 13, we notice that the first three soils (representing our hearts, mind, and soul) did not understand or were open to receive what was taught. But the last soil represents those who hear the Word of God, understand it, retain it, and persevere in it until they brought forth fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. I pray you will ask the Holy Spirit to open your mind when you read and listen to the Word of God because only when you understand the Word of God can you bring forth fruit. Lack of understanding results in no fruit and no salvation.
These people were so hungry for the Word of God that they did not want to stop. In verse 13 we read, “On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with all the priests and Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law.” As they read, they discovered that the Law spoke about the Feast of the Tabernacles, which had not been celebrated for years. The people said among themselves, “We have to do it. It is in the Book!” Again, that is why we must have serious study of the Bible.
We must understand the Word of God
So that we can do the will of God.
The people listened to the reading and teaching of the Law of God – not only the first and second day, but for a whole week! In verse 18 we read, “Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God.” These people were hungry!
God’s Holy Spirit was
Bringing about a revival,
And it was centered
On the Word of God.
There will be no reformation,
No revival, no change taking place
Unless we are first gripped
By the Divine Word.
What happened as Ezra read?
For the first time in their lives,
These people saw themselves in
The light of the Word of God.
As they compared their lives to the light of God’s pattern and plumb line, they realized they had been living disobedient, sinful lives. They realized they had been doing things all wrong, according to God’s Word.
The reaction of the people of Ezra’s time was like that of Josiah, whom we read about in 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34. When the priests found the long-neglected Book of the Law in the temple, they brought it to King Josiah, saying, “We have found a book.” When they read it to him, he began to tear his clothes and exclaimed, “We are finished! Our lives are not right in the light of the Word of God. God’s judgment is coming upon us!” Oh, how Josiah believed God’s Word and trembled when he heard it!
The Bible says in Psalm 119:103, “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” That is what we will say when the Holy Spirit works in our lives. Otherwise, if we have no interest in God, the Bible will be the most boring book to us – a book that will put us to sleep the minute we open it. In Psalm 119:105 the psalmist says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” In verse 111 he says, “Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart,” and in verse 127 he declares he loves God’s commands “more than gold, more than pure gold.” In verse 131 he says, “I open my mouth, longing for your commands.” In other words, “it is my food, what I need to live!” This is the reaction to God’s Word of a child of God under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
On Wednesday, we saw the first two marks of genuine revival. The first mark is . . .
1. Conviction Of Sin.
Ezra read and taught the law of God day after day. As the people listened and understood and saw their lives in the light of God’s truth, they were convicted of their sins, as we read in Nehemiah 8. What is sin? It is anything we think, say, or do that disobeys God’s desire and design as taught in the Word of God. That is why we cannot have any true understanding of sin until we come to the Bible and compare our lives to it. It is the Bible that tells us, “Thou shall have no other God’s before Me …” and so on. Through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins. In John 16:7-11 we are told that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The sinner is convicted and convinced of his sin by the mighty work of the Spirit of God.
When people are convinced of their guilt and defilement, they will realize their inability to save themselves. They will be cut to the heart and cry out, “What must we do to be saved?” When conviction of the Spirit takes place through the Word, people humble themselves and seek God’s face to know God’s will so that they can turn from, not part, but all of their wicked ways. Whenever the Holy Spirit comes upon us and convicts us in this way, we will own our sin. We will not shift the blame to society or to our parents or to our husband or wife or pastor. When I see blame-shifting, I immediately know that the Holy Spirit is not working in his life. When the Holy Spirit convicts us, we will own our sin.
In Nehemiah 8:9 we read, “Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is sacred 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.” What great conviction, great sorrow over sin, great pain of conscience these people were experiencing! “We have sinned! We are undone and finished!” they were saying. As the people began to weep and mourn over their sins, Ezra and Nehemiah and others told them, “Please, please, do not do weep or mourn today. Today is a day of rejoicing. We can do it another day.” In fact, as we read later, they came together on the twenty-fourth day of the month to confess their sins and mourn over them.
The second mark of genuine revival . . .
2. Confession of Sin.
This Holy Spirit-produced authentic sorrow for sin is an essential component of true revival. It began with the Word of God – consulting the Scriptures – which produces conviction. Conviction, in turn, causes people to confess sins, and we read the great confession of these people in Nehemiah 9. The Word of God, when understood correctly, will produce not arid intellectualism or dead orthodoxy, but conviction and confession of sin. We will unashamedly confess our sins before God and all people. When Nathan the prophet came and ministered to David, what did David say? “I have sinned.”
Thus . . .
In Nehemiah 9 we find
The longest prayer
In the entire Bible –
A prayer of corporate
As well as
As we examine a few of these verses we will get a sense of what true confession is.
In verse 16-17 we read, “But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God. . . .” In verse 26 we read, “But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs.” When revival is on, we will open the Bible gladly and read it. It will always be in front of us. But when we sin, we take the Bible and throw it behind our backs.
In verse 36-37 we read, “But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our forefathers so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress.” Notice, the people are not just praying about the sins of their forefathers, but they include themselves in this great confession of sin. Why did these people need to confess their sins? In Hosea 14, verses 1 to 2, we find God’s counsel to sinners, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord.” In other words, they had to confess that they had sinned and trusted in Assyria, Egypt, and everyone but the true and living God.
We must first consult the Word of God, which produces conviction, and then confess our sins. Remember the prodigal son in Luke 15? He did not just come home and say, “I’m back!” as if nothing had happened. No, he confessed to his father, “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not worthy to be called your son.” When there is true revival, you do not have to force a confession out of people. It will happen spontaneously by the work of the Spirit of the living God in their hearts. They will be eager to say, “I have sinned! Not my father, not my mother, not my wife, not my husband, not the pastor – I have sinned.”
In 1 John 1:9 we find this glorious promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” This is the purpose of God. God wants to save us in the right way and He does – through the Word, through conviction, and through confession of sin.
The third mark of genuine revival is . . .
3. The Commitment to Change.
The next thing we see in Nehemiah 10 is the commitment of these people to change in the light of God’s Word. If the Holy Spirit is working in your life through the word of God, you will first understand the Word and be convicted by it, then you will confess and own up your sins and commit yourselves to change.
Commitment to change – That is what the tenth chapter of Nehemiah is all about, and that is what the Christian life is about.
It is a commitment to align one’s life to
The pattern revealed in the word of God.
What type of change are we talking about?
- A thief becomes a giver.
- A liar becomes a truthteller.
- A lazy man becomes industrious.
- A domineering wife becomes submissive.
- A passive husband becomes responsible.
- Disobedient children become delightfully obedient.
- A Sabbath-breaker becomes a Sabbath-keeper.
Holy Spirit-produced biblical change results in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. That is the kingdom of God.
Authentic revival brings about measurable
Change of behavior in God’s people.
In Nehemiah 9:38 we read the commitment of the people of Israel. After listening to the Bible study by Ezra, the people were convicted and confessed their sins. Now they wanted to commit themselves to change. So, they said, “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites, and our priests are affixing their seals to it.” This was a binding agreement-written, signed, sealed, and witnessed.
This was serious revival! These people were putting themselves under a curse if they failed to keep the covenant. Their agreement was a promise to God and to one another that these people would separate themselves to live holy lives.
In Nehemiah 10:28-29 we read, “The rest of the people-priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves . . . all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord.” This is what had happened through the Bible study of Ezra. These people already separated themselves from all sorts of evil, and now they were entering into an agreement with God and with each other in the form of this binding agreement.
The First Issue To Be Addressed Was Marriage.
In Nehemiah 10:30 we read, “We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.” Family is vital to every other institution. When the family goes bad, everything goes bad throughout society. The Bible said that God’s people should not marry pagans because they were a holy race, a holy people, as we read in Exodus 34:15-16 and Ezra 9:2. These people had been divorcing their wives at will and marrying pagans. But here they were making a solemn promise to God: “We will not do it. We will keep our marriage and family in the light of your word.”
The Second Issue To Be Addressed Was A Commitment To Sabbath-Keeping.
In verse 31 we find a These Israelites had not kept the Sabbath. They were buying and selling, working, and making money. Malachi dealt with this issue also, as did Nehemiah later on, as we read in Nehemiah 13. Here, though, in this earlier revival we see the people saying, “We promise to keep the Sabbath.” Additionally, they said, “We promise to not plow or plant the land in the seventh year.” This demonstrated a lot of trust in God. Why did they make this promise? Because the Bible said to do it. So, they bound themselves not to work on the Sabbath, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and to keep the Sabbath year by not working the land. They trusted in God and His Word that He would provide for them as they kept the Sabbath.
The Third Issue To Be Addressed Was A Commitment To Support Financially The Temple.
This allowed the Levites and the priests to be provided for and allowed them to be fully engaged in leading the worship of the true God.
The Fourth Issue To Be Addressed Was A Commitment Not To Neglect The House Of God.
In Nehemiah 10:39 we read about this promise. We find similar encouragement to participate in the church in Hebrews 10:25 where we read, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The people of Nehemiah’s time decided not to compromise with the world. They separated themselves from the world and committed themselves to serve God and each other in accordance with the Word of God. Like Ezra and Nehemiah . . .
We take God’s Word seriously
And are building our lives
And this church
According to it.
We preach the Word of God faithfully and refuse to compromise for the sake of peace. As a church, we have only one purpose: to hear from Christ on the last day, “Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord.” And even if times change, we will continue to preach the timeless truth of God’s Word, which alone is able to save sinners and which alone will give us the great, everlasting life and joy of the Lord that we read about in Nehemiah 8.
Should a true church of God compromise in its preaching, teaching, and practicing of the Word of God? The answer is an emphatic “No!” Because only in the Word of God will we see Jesus Christ, who is the true Prophet, Priest, King, Savior, Judge, and our only way of salvation.
What about you? Have you seen and trusted in Jesus Christ? Have you surrendered your life to Him? If not, I urge and beseech you to do so from this day on.
May God have mercy upon us this day. May He sustain and strengthen us by the Holy Spirit, that we may not conform to the world, but faithfully declare, proclaim and life by the Word of God that alone brings salvation to the world. Amen.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”