Instructed in the Law of God
IT was the
time of the Feast of Trumpets. Many were gathered at Jerusalem. The scene
was one of mournful interest. The wall of Jerusalem had been rebuilt and
the gates set up, but a large part of the city was still in ruins.
On a platform
of wood, erected in one of the broadest streets, and surrounded on every
hand by the sad reminders of Judah's departed glory, stood Ezra, now an
aged man. At his right and left were gathered his brother Levites. Looking
down from the platform, their eyes swept over a sea of heads. From all the
surrounding country the children of the covenant had assembled. "And
Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen: .
. . and they bowed their heads, and worshiped the Lord with their faces to
Yet even here
was evidence of the sin of Israel. Through the intermarriage of the people
with other nations, the
language had become corrupted, and great care was necessary on the part of
the speakers to explain the law in the language of the people, that it
might be understood by all. Certain of the priests and Levites united with
Ezra in explaining the principles of the law. "They read in the book
in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to
understand the reading."
ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law." They
listened, intent and reverent, to the words of the Most High. As the law
was explained, they were convinced of their guilt, and they mourned
because of their transgressions. But this day was a festival, a day of
rejoicing, a holy convocation, a day which the Lord had commanded the
people to keep with joy and gladness; and in view of this they were bidden
to restrain their grief and to rejoice because of God's great mercy toward
them. "This day is holy unto the Lord your God," Nehemiah said.
"Mourn not, nor weep. . . . Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the
sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this
day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is
part of the day was devoted to religious exercises, and the people spent
the remainder of the time in gratefully recounting the blessings of God
and in enjoying the bounties that He had provided. Portions were also sent
to the poor, who had nothing to prepare. There was great rejoicing because
the words of the law had been read and understood.
following day the reading and explaining of the law were continued. And at
the time appointed--on the tenth day of the seventh month--the solemn
services of the Day of Atonement were performed according to the command
fifteenth to the twenty-second of the same month the people and their
rulers kept once more the Feast of Tabernacles. It was proclaimed "in
all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and
fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm
branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.
So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths,
everyone upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the
courts of the house of God. . . . And there was very great gladness. Also
day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he [Ezra] read in the
book of the law of God."
As they had
listened from day to day to the words of the law, the people had been
convicted of their transgressions, and of the sins of their nation in past
generations. They saw that it was because of a departure from God that His
protecting care had been withdrawn and that the children of Abraham had
been scattered in foreign lands, and they determined to seek His mercy and
to pledge themselves to walk in His commandments. Before entering upon
this solemn service, held on the second day after the close of the Feast
of Tabernacles, they separated themselves from the heathen among them.
As the people
prostrated themselves before the Lord,
their sins and pleading for pardon, their leaders encouraged them to
believe that God, according to His promise, heard their prayers. They must
not only mourn and weep, and repent, but they must believe that God
pardoned them. They must show their faith by recounting His mercies and
praising Him for His goodness. "Stand up," said these teachers,
"and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever."
Then from the
assembled throng, as they stood with outstretched hands toward heaven,
there arose the song:
be Thy glorious name,
exalted above all blessing and praise.
Thou, art Lord alone;
made heaven, the heaven of heavens,
and all things that are therein,
The seas, and
all that is therein,
preservest them all;
And the host
of heaven worshippeth Thee."
The song of
praise ended, the leaders of the congregation related the history of
Israel, showing how great had been God's goodness toward them, and how
great their ingratitude. Then the whole congregation entered into a
covenant to keep all the commandments of God. They had suffered punishment
for their sins; now they acknowledged the justice of God's dealings with
them and pledged themselves to obey His law. And that this might be
"a sure covenant," and be preserved in permanent form, as a
memorial of the obligation they had taken upon themselves, it was written
out, and the priests, Levites, and princes signed it. It was
to serve as a
reminder of duty and a barrier against temptation. The people took a
solemn oath "to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the
servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our
Lord, and His judgments and His statutes." The oath taken at this
time included a promise not to intermarry with the people of the land.
day of fasting ended, the people still further manifested their
determination to return to the Lord, by pledging themselves to cease from
desecrating the Sabbath. Nehemiah did not at this time, as at a later
date, exercise his authority to prevent heathen traders from coming into
Jerusalem; but in an effort to save the people from yielding to
temptation, he bound them, by a solemn covenant, not to transgress the
Sabbath law by purchasing from these venders, hoping that this would
discourage the traders and put an end to the traffic.
also made to support the public worship of God. In addition to the tithe
the congregation pledged themselves to contribute yearly a stated sum for
the service of the sanctuary. "We cast the lots," Nehemiah
writes, "to bring the first fruits of our ground, and the first
fruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, unto the house of the
Lord: also the first-born of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written
in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks."
returned to God with deep sorrow for backsliding. They had made confession
with mourning and lamentation. They had acknowledged the righteousness of
dealings with them, and had covenanted to obey His law. Now they must
manifest faith in His promises. God had accepted their repentance; they
were now to rejoice in the assurance of sins forgiven and their
restoration to divine favor.
efforts to restore the worship of the true God had been crowned with
success. As long as the people were true to the oath they had taken, as
long as they were obedient to God's word, so long would the Lord fulfill
His promise by pouring rich blessings upon them.
For those who
are convicted of sin and weighed down with a sense of their unworthiness,
there are lessons of faith and encouragement in this record. The Bible
faithfully presents the result of Israel's apostasy; but it portrays also
the deep humiliation and repentance, the earnest devotion and generous
sacrifice, that marked their seasons of return to the Lord.
turning to the Lord brings abiding joy into the life. When a sinner yields
to the influence of the Holy Spirit, he sees his own guilt and defilement
in contrast with the holiness of the great Searcher of hearts. He sees
himself condemned as a transgressor. But he is not, because of this, to
give way to despair; for his pardon has already been secured. He may
rejoice in the sense of sins forgiven, in the love of a pardoning heavenly
Father. It is God's glory to encircle sinful, repentant human beings in
the arms of His love, to bind up their wounds, to cleanse them from sin,
and to clothe them with the garments of salvation.