Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
God's Word had a profound effect on the people who heard Paul's preaching in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1). They welcomed the message, became a model congregation, and shared the gospel with others.
Something similar happens in Nehemiah's day. The people weep so much that Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites have to restrain them (Nehemiah 8:9-11). The people are told that it is a special day of the Lord, meant to be celebrated with joy. Would it have been better for the leaders to let the people fully express their grief? Counselling students are taught that one should not stop a person from crying, as it will short-circuit the process of catharsis and impede the ventilation of deeply held emotions. Are the leaders too quick to stop the weeping?
A fuller expression of grief in response to God's Word is envisaged, as we can see from Nehemiah 9. Thus the leaders are not cutting short what God is doing, but in wisdom, they are preparing the people for a deeper repentance later on, in the context of fasting and prayer. The people accept the calming advice of their religious leaders and recognise that the day is meant to be spent in joyful worship and fellowship in honour of God who has assisted them. So they enjoy meals together and compassionately share them with the less well-off, sending ″some to those who have nothing prepared″ (8:10, 12).
The people also obey what has been revealed to them-a commandment to ″live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month″ (v. 14; Leviticus 23:33-43). This Feast of the Harvest (Exodus 23:16) is one of three annual festivals in Israel. It is to be celebrated with the first fruits of the harvest and is to be celebrated for seven days marked by restful joy. Its purpose, as expressed by God, is to remind His people that ″I made the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt″ (Leviticus 23:43). The people are to remember that as sojourners and pilgrims, they continue to depend on the Lord to provide for their journey through the wilderness of the world.
The people take action to obey God's Word. Having long neglected the Feast, they now celebrate it with much joy (Nehemiah 8:17). Their joy is the joy of obedience. There is weeping, joy, sharing, and obedience-the proper kind of response to God's Word.
How do we respond when we read, meditate on, and hear the proclamation of God's Word? Is it a deep experience, producing in us a range of emotions and actions that show that God's Word is powerful as it richly dwells in us (Colossians 3:16) to stir our hearts and move our hands in obedient and compassionate actions?
What are the dangers of letting religious emotions expressed in public become uncontrolled? How would you assess the advice of the leaders in Nehemiah 8?
Reflect on how God's Word brings forth in us weeping, joy, sharing, and obedience. Assess how much of this is experienced in your personal reading of Scripture, as well as in church.