Several years ago, a couple walking on their property noticed something shiny lying on the ground. They dug around to discover eight buried cans containing $10 million worth of gold coins, dating back to the 1800s. Imagine living for years with such wealth in your possession, but not knowing it or benefiting from it!
Ironically, many Christians possess even greater riches. They own a book with answers to life’s questions, wisdom for daily living, and knowledge that leads to eternal life. Yet, too often the book collects dust in their homes as they busy themselves with numerous distractions. Often, we need a timely reminder to access all that God makes available to us. God has given us a fountain of His goodness in His Word: the Bible. The Bible is unique in that every time we read it, the author is present with us. The Holy Spirit helps us understand and apply the Scriptures to our lives.
A story from the prophet Nehemiah offers a helpful approach to God’s Word. The Israelites had been taken from their homeland to a foreign nation, living as captives there. After several decades, Nehemiah gained permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the broken walls of the city. And, despite some challenges, the task is completed and a great assembly is called. All the people — men, women, and children — gathered to hear the Book of the Law read. This included the first five books of the Bible, which detailed how God should be worshipped.
Nehemiah 8 details seven responses to God’s Word that are a helpful reminder for Christians today.
Nehemiah 8:1 notes how Ezra the priest is asked to “bring out the Book of the Law” and read it. The people of the land eagerly anticipated hearing God’s Word.
The attitude of those in Nehemiah’s day should challenge followers of Christ today. How do we approach God’s Word? Do we make having a personal devotion time a priority in our lives?
Before my daughter left home for her first semester of college, I shared some final ‘words from Dad,’ with her. At the top of the list was the importance of keeping a regular devotion time with God in prayer and study of His Word. No matter how successful she may become in school or the world, she’ll come up short if she neglects her relationship with God — and the same applies to us.
The people of Nehemiah’s day desired God’s commands and so should we. They enthusiastically come to listen to His instructions. What is our attitude and approach to worship? Do we simply go through the motions each week, or do we eagerly expect to receive from God’s Word?
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:98).
Ezra proclaimed God’s Word to all who could hear with understanding. Scriptures were read from morning until midday (about five hours). Imagine attending a church service of that length!
And, the “ears of the people were attentive to the book of the law” (Nehemiah 8:3). Even in such a long service, they paid attention. To receive all that the Bible has for us, we must learn to become good listeners. We may need to take notes or apply other techniques to help us better focus and follow the proclamation of God’s Word.
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28).
Ezra stood on a platform to read the Book of the Law. And, to honor God’s Word, the people all stood (Nehemiah 8:5). This showed reverence for the Scriptures.
Respect for the Bible was built into the architecture of many churches over the centuries and is still present in some today. A high pulpit sits at the front of the sanctuary that requires ascending a staircase to reach. Often, a deacon or church leader will ascend the stairs first, carrying the Bible and placing it upon the pulpit. Then, the preacher follows. This emphasizes the authority of God’s Word over the personality or popularity of the individual reading it.
Do we show reverence for God’s Word and give it priority in our lives? When confronted with controversies in the world or church, or decisions in our daily lives, is our first thought to look to the Scriptures for answers and direction? Though unpopular at times and politically incorrect, the Bible is our only true guide.
“Your Word is true from the beginning: and every one of your righteous judgments endure forever (Psalm 119:160).”
The public reading of the Scriptures at the assembly drove the people to worship. They joyfully shouted, “Amen! Amen!” (Nehemiah 8:6). They may have even lifted their hands in worship (Ezra 9:5). They continued their worship by bowing down in humility.
The reading of God’s Word and its proclamation should stir us to exalt God. His Word declares to us the many characteristics of who He is and what He does for us, leading us to give Him praise.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 118:1).
The people wept when they heard the law (Nehemiah 8:9). Why? They were convicted, realizing the many areas they had not followed God’s commands. It brought sorrow that led to repentance.
In the same way that a mirror reveals physical blemishes, the Bible shows us the stain of sin in our lives. God’s Holy Spirit uses the scriptures to convict us and conform us into people who live like Jesus.
“…God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (2 Corinthians 2:4).
As the law was read, the people were reminded of the Feast of Booths, which they had failed to honor or celebrate. They immediately obeyed the commands and commenced the festival with passion (Nehemiah 8:16, 17). In short, they heard God’s Word proclaimed, and they obeyed it.
They were not like those that the apostle James spoke of, those who gazed at themselves in a mirror and walked away forgetting what they looked like (James 1:24). Such people see their sins exposed in Scripture, but walk out the church doors on a Sunday with no concern, seeing no need for further action.
Let us each be like those in Nehemiah who heard, were convicted, applied the Scriptures, and obeyed.
In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).
After conviction and repentance, the people “celebrated with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them” (Nehemiah 8:12).
God’s Word, rightfully comprehended, brings joy, not because it saves us, but because it points us to Jesus who can! He bore our sins on the Cross so that through Him we are set free and restored into right relationship with God.
“And, if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
If you’ve been neglecting your Bible, now is a great time to pick it up. Ask God to renew your hunger for His Word. Listen intently when it is taught and proclaimed. Honor the Bible by giving it priority in your life and let its words lead you to worship the Lord. As the Spirit uses it to bring conviction, run to God in repentance and forgiveness, choosing to obey its commands. And as you do, times of refreshing and joy will come.
*Sunday, Dec. 13, is Bible Sunday in the Assemblies of God.