Introduction: The Jews wanted to have their nation revitalized. Building the walls would bring security from foreign attacks. But spiritual renewal would not begin until the Jews’ transformed their hearts. After Nehemiah led the Jews in rebuilding the walls, the Holy Spirit moved upon the people to seek out the great teacher Ezra to read God’s law, found in the first five books of the Bible. God’s Word transformed the hearts of many leaders and the people. From these events, God reveals seven lessons on spiritual renewal. For spiritual renewal to be successful, it must include: (1) the Holy Spirit, (2) worship, (3) knowing God’s Word, (4) repentance, (5) gratitude, (6) a desire for a deeper understanding of God through His Word, and (7) obedience.
First, the Holy Spirit moved upon the people to request that Ezra read God’s law to them. Renewal also requires a willingness to be led by the Spirit and the Word. Second, Ezra blessed God, and the people worshiped God. Renewal also requires a desire to worship and honor God. Third, Ezra and Nehemiah could not lead a revival on their own. They needed priests to teach and explain the law. Today, any believer in Jesus Christ is part of His royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9). Renewal requires a desire for people like you to learn and teach God’s Word. Fourth, God’s Word convicted the people of their sins. Renewal also requires the conviction of sin and repentance. Fifth, the Jews expressed their gratitude for God’s mercy and grace. Renewal also requires gratitude for God’s mercy and grace. Sixth, the elders came to Ezra to gain an even deeper understanding of God’s law so that they could better serve God as leaders. Renewal also requires that you seek a deeper understanding of God’s Word. Finally, for the first time since Joshua, the Jews followed the ordinances for the Feast of Tabernacles by living in booths. Renewal also requires a desire to obey God’s Word out of love, not obligation. Living in booths also symbolized dependence on God. For the Jews’ obedience to succeed, they had to depend upon Him. If you hope to succeed in obeying God, you must also learn to depend upon Him.
Led by the Spirit, the people acted with one accord to request the reading of God’s Word. After the rebuilding of the walls and God’s commitment to rebuild the population of Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit moved the people to renew their hearts for God: “1 And all the people gathered as one person at the public square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. 2 Then Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it before the public square which was in front of the Water Gate, from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” (Neh. 8:1-3). This gathering began “on the first day of the seventh month.” (Neh. 8:2). This was during the Feast of Trumpets, New Year’s Day on God’s civil calendar (Lev. 23:23-25; Nu. 29:1-6). It was a day that celebrated the new beginnings that only God can offer. God commanded that His law be read to the nation once every seven years during the Feast of Tabernacles, which the Jews would soon celebrate: “Then Moses commanded them, saying, ‘At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing.”’ (Dt. 31:10-11). But the Jews had failed to study and learn from the law as God commanded. Here, the important role of the Spirit in the Jews’ revival is stressed. The Spirit gathered: (1) all “the people”, (2) to act “as one person”; (3) to seek out the teacher Ezra, (4) to “ask” for God’s Word to be read to them; (5) to the “listen with understanding,” (6) for six hours, and (7) to remain “attentive” during the teaching.
Ezra the priest read God’s Law before an assembly of Jews1
Ezra’s Spirit-led calling to teach God’s Word. This is Ezra’s first introduction in the book of Nehemiah. Ezra was a descendant of the High Priest Seraiah (Ezra 7:1), the last High Priest of Judah before the exile (2 Kgs. 25:18; 1 Chr. 6:15). As a Levite, he had a right under God’s law to lead the Jews in spiritual matters. In 458 B.C., nearly 60 years after the completion of the Temple, God appointed Ezra to lead a second wave of returning Jews to the Promised Land. This happened during the reign of Persian King Artaxerxes Longimanus I (circa 464 – 423 B.C.) (Ezra 7:7-8). In 445 B.C., the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem (Neh. 2:1). Between 445 B.C. and 425 B.C., Nehemiah led the Jews in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah together led the Jews in preparing their hearts for the Messiah. The Hebrew word for “scribe” (NASB/ NKJ) (Neh. 8:1) is listed in some translations as “teacher.” (e.g., NIV). Because books did not yet exist, many teachers learned the law by transcribing it. This allowed for God’s Word to be preserved and disseminated to the people. Instead of offering new revelations, like a prophet, the scribe or teacher helped to apply God’s Word. By Jewish tradition, Ezra had memorized the law and could write it from memory. Thus, he was an expert in the Mosaic law and how to apply it under the changed circumstances. He was “learned in the words of the commandments of the Lord and His statutes to Israel.” (Ezra 7:11). He was like Paul, who later declared that he was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel in the strict ways of our ancestral law.” (Acts 22:3). But Ezra and Paul never served as high priests. Moses was also a Levite who never served as high priest (Ex. 2:1-10). Instead, Moses was a man of faith who came to give God’s law following the first exodus. Ezra came to reintroduce God’s law following the second exodus. Thus, to some Jews, Ezra is referred as their second Moses.
It is the duty of every believer to learn God’s Word. The word “people” appears thirteen times in the first twelve verses of this chapter. This was meant to stress that a nation’s spiritual renewal requires the involvement of all God’s people if it is to be both meaningful and long-lasting. “Nehemiah 8 emphasizes that all the people of God must know His Word. Surveys have shown the appalling lack of biblical knowledge among Christians today. At the same time there is a deep hunger for the Word among Christians. Religious leaders today must take seriously their responsibility as shepherds to feed the flock (John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31; Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:2). Paul’s command to Timothy is still valid for ministers, ‘Preach the Word!’ (2 Tim. 4:2); and James' word is valid for all believers, “Be doers on the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” (Jam. 1:22, NRSV). This chapter also stresses the need for exhortation based upon the Word (Neh. 8:9-12). Ezra’s helpers explained the meaning of the Law and its relevance for the people in their situation. They first understood their need for forgiveness; then they needed an explanation of God’s forgiveness and His grace.” (Mervin Breneman, The New American Commentary, Vol. 10, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 230-231) (italics in original).
God’s Word and the Spirit will guide your steps. The Jews knew to seek God’s Word and a great teacher to guide their steps. God’s Word can be a lamp to guide your steps as well. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” (2 Pet. 1:19). The Holy Spirit also takes the Word and applies it to the unique circumstances of your life to guide your path. “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (Jo. 16:13). Are you reading the Word and praying for the Holy Spirit to guide your steps?
The people worshiped God. The people sat in submission to hear God’s Word. After Ezra blessed God, the people then raised their hands while on their knees to worship God: “4 Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left. 5 Then Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” with the raising of their hands; then they kneeled down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” (Neh. 8:4-6). Ezra’s position on a platform was not to elevate his importance. Instead, he symbolically elevated the importance of God’s Word. He also surrounded himself with 13 elders who made themselves accountable to help teach and explain God’s Word to the people. The people also received God’s Word in full submission. They stood up when he opened a scroll with God’s Word. When Ezra blessed God, the people again signaled their agreement with their response of “Amen, Amen”. They then worshiped God on their knees: “The repetition of ‘Amen, Amen!’ connotes the intensity of feeling behind the affirmation (2 Kings 11:14; Luke 23:21). The Amen as a congregational response is known from the time of David according to 1 Chronicles 16:36.” (Frank Gaebelein, The Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, 1, 2 Kings, 1, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job (Zondervan Publishing House 1988) p. 724).
Spiritual renewal requires worship. The Jews’ prior great revivals all included worship. As one of David’s enduring legacies as king, he institutionalized the role of the Levites to lead the people in worship (1 Chr. 16:41-42; 25:1). The great reformer kings Hezekiah and Josiah reinstituted David’s reforms to ensure that the Jews continued to worship God out of gratitude (2 Chr. 30:21; 35:15). King Jehoash, who at one point led a revival, prioritized repairing the Temple for worship before other reforms (2 Kgs. 22:4-5). King Josiah also prioritized repairing God’s Temple to restore proper worship (2 Chr. 34:8-13; 2 Kgs. 22:3-7). At age 26, he had the wisdom to order his servants to repair the Temple for worship (2 Chr. 34:8). At that time, the Temple had not been fully repaired for approximately 218 years (2 Kgs. 12:1-16). Ezra also wisely understood that his Spirit-led reforms would not last without vibrant worship, a strong priesthood, and accountability. If you are looking for renewal, begin by renewing your worship life.
The priests teach and explain God’s law. Revival will not succeed with just one person. Thus, Nehemiah stressed the important role of the priests to teach and explain the law: “7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites explained the Law to the people while the people remained in their place. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.” (Neh. 8:7-8). God gave the law hundreds of years earlier at Mount Horeb. After living in exile, the Jews had lost their knowledge of many of the Jews practices. They had also adopted many Babylonian and Persian customs. Thus, they needed help to understand God’s law.
Ezra empowered other priests to help teach and explain God’s Law to the people2
The Jews suffered because they failed to learn and follow God’s law. Through the prophet Hosea, God lamented that His people had suffered because of their lack of knowledge of God’s law: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” (Hos. 4:6). Their lack of knowledge of God’s law had also led to their exile: “Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst.” (Is. 5:13). If you don’t know God’s law, you may slowly slide into behavior that God has defined as sinful. Are you studying God’s law to protect yourself?
The parallels to the rediscovery of God’s law under King Josiah. During the evil reigns of King Manasseh and King Amon, the Jews lived in open rebellion and failed to follow God’s law (2 Chr. 34:14-18; 2 Kgs. 22:8-10). During the reign of the reformer King Josiah, the high priest found the “the book of the law” during the eighteenth year of his reign, in 621 B.C. The book of the law was another term for Moses’ Torah or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. If the book had been lost, this suggested that Manasseh had tried to purge God’s Word from Judah during his evil reign. A copy of the Torah had to be kept next to the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies (Dt. 31:26). Only the high priest could enter the holy of holies (Lev. 16:2, 34; Heb. 9:7). Thus, this copy of the Torah was beyond the reach of Manasseh and Amon. Without the rediscovery of God’s Word, renewal could not have truly begun. As led by the Holy Spirit, Ezra, Nehemiah, the priests, and the people all followed in Josiah’s example.
God’s Word was meant to be studied by all. God commanded that each leader of the Jews was required to write a copy of the law to guide his actions (Dt. 17:18-19). God also commanded that His law be read to the nation once every seven years during the Feast of Tabernacles (Dt. 31:10-11). But the Jews had failed to study God’s law as He commanded. God wants you to learn from the Jews’ mistakes. In order to allow the Holy Spirit to renew you, you need to study and learn God’s law and His Word.
Memorize God’s Word. The Jews frequently sinned because they forgot God’s law. To avoid making the same mistake, God wants you to hide His law and His Word in your heart: “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” (Ps. 119:11). “The law of his God is in his heart; His steps do not slip.” (Ps. 37:31). “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” (Dt. 6:6). ‘“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”’ (Jer. 31:33). If you hide God’s law and His Word in your heart, the Holy Spirit can guide you and convict you of your sins.
Be a teacher of God’s law and His Word. The Shema, or the Jewish call to worship, included a call for every believer to teach God’s law to their children: “7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Dt. 6:4-9). This is a common theme throughout Deuteronomy (Dt. 4:9-10; 5:31; 11:19). This commandment is also repeated throughout the Old Testament: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6; Ps. 78:4-6). It is also repeated again in the New Testament (Eph. 6:4). “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” (Heb. 5:12). Yet, failing to properly teach God’s law can lead to judgment: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” (Jam. 3:1) Will you study God’s law and Word so that you can teach it properly?
God’s law convicted the Jews of their sins. God’s law convicted the people of their sins. But Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests encouraged the Jews to celebrate the holy day: “9 Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, ‘Go, eat the festival foods, drink the sweet drinks, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your refuge.’ 11 So the Levites silenced all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”’ (Neh. 8:9-11). Although their actual repentance is not expressly stated in the text, it is implied. Without it, Ezra and the priests would not have encouraged the Jews to be joyful and celebrate God. Reading God’s law revealed to the Jews their sins. They had spent 70 years in exile because their ancestors had failed to observe God’s law. The Jews feared God’s wrath for their continued disobedience. But God’s mercy and grace was bigger than the Jews’ sins. Thus, the leaders encouraged the people to celebrate God on this holy day of revival.
The people were convicted, wept, and, repented after Ezra read God’s Law to them3
God’s Word convicts of sin. God’s Word is able to pierce the heart and convict a person of their sins. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). ‘“Is not My word like fire?’ declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer which shatters a rock?”’ (Jer. 23:29). “Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth.” (Hos. 6:5). The Holy Spirit then convicts the person of their sins: “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;” (Jo. 16:8). During King Josiah’s similar revival, the Holy Spirit convicted him regarding the failure of the Jews to follow God’s law (2 Chr. 34:19-21; 2 Kgs. 22:11-13). He feared God’s wrath after hearing of the discipline that God promised to inflict upon His people if they disobeyed Him (Dt. 28:14:15-68). He knew that God is faithful to keep His Word. The Jews felt a similar conviction, and they feared that God would repeat His judgments.
The conviction of Word can lead to spiritual revival. God does not want to condemn people with His Word. Thus, once the people were convicted of their sins, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the priests encouraged the Jews to celebrate God’s mercy and grace with a change in their behavior: “2 Timothy 3:16 tells us two things the Word of God is profitable for: reproof and correction. Our knowledge of our sin should never be bigger than our knowledge of Jesus as our savior. We are great sinners, but He is a greater savior. Therefore, the joy of the Lord is your strength - even when you are being convicted of sin. When we are convicted of sin we know that God is doing a work in us, so we can be glad and take joy. . . . The people felt sad, because they were aware of their own sin. But they could walk in joy because God was doing a great work.” (David Guzik on Neh. 8).4 Revivals frequently begin with people hearing God’s Word and repenting of their sins. If you are seeking renewal, it begins with reading the Word. God wants you to then repent of your sins and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide your path.
If a nation repents and turns back to God, He will deliver it. God promises to deliver any nation trapped in its sins if the people repent: “and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chr. 7:14). It is the role of the Church to pray and be His salt and light in leading the nation to repent. Is your church fasting and praying for your nation to repent?
The people rejoiced and celebrated God’s mercy and grace. Once the full extent of God’s mercy and grace had become apparent, the people joyfully celebrated God in a feast: “12 Then all the people went away to eat, drink, to send portions, and to celebrate a great feast, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.” (Neh. 8:12). Teaching God’s law was central to the Jews’ joy. They could not fully appreciate what they had been saved from without fully understanding the extent of their sins.
The people joyfully celebrated God’s mercy, grace, and His faithfulness5
Praise and worship Jesus for His mercy and grace. When Ezra and Nehemiah observed God’s Feast of Tabernacles, they also experienced God’s joy: “And there was great rejoicing.” (Neh. 8:17). Jesus wants you to praise Him for His mercy and grace. He is your rock, even when you deserve His judgment: “The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock; and exalted be God, the rock of my salvation,” (2 Sam. 22:47). “My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; my savior, You save me from violence.” (2 Sam. 22:3). “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” (Dt. 32:4). “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Ps. 18:2, 31, 46; 19:14). Worship helps to clear your mind to receive God’s Word when you are in turmoil. Thus, you should never skip the worship service at your church. Do you praise Jesus for the price He paid for you at the cross?
The leaders gathered to obtain a deeper insight to God’s law. To ensure that they would not repeat their mistakes, the elders came to Ezra to gain deeper insights into God’s law: “13 Then on the second day the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests, and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe so that they might gain insight into the words of the Law.” (Neh. 8:13). God organized the Jews through tribes, clans, and families to ensure that everyone was accountable. Thus, as led by the Spirit, the leaders of each group of Jews knew that they had a special responsibility to better know God’s Word so that they could lead the people that God had entrusted to them. Their decision to learn and follow the Word would bless the people. Conversely, they would bring judgment upon the people if they failed to follow the law and encourage others to do so.
Have a love for God’s law and His Word. The leaders all had a heart to draw closer to God by understanding His law and His Word better. God also blessed Ezra because he “had set his heart to  study the law of the Lord and  to practice it, and  to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10). The Psalmist also proclaimed: “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Ps. 119:97) “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.” (Ps. 1:2). Having this love means that you enjoy spending time digging into God’s law and His Word. Do you love studying God’s law and His Word? Or, do you find it to be a burden?
The greatest commandment: to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and might. After repeating the Ten Commandments, Moses distilled them down to just one in the Jewish call to worship or Shema: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Dt. 6:5). In Hebrew, the reference to a person’s “heart” also includes their “mind.” (e.g., Zech. 8:17; Dt. 9:4; 2 Sam. 13:33; 2 Kings 23:25; Esther 4:13; Is. 10:7). Centuries later, a Pharisee lawyer sought to test Jesus. He asked Jesus to name the greatest Commandment (Matt. 22:34). Jesus responded by quoting the second verse of the Shema. Yet, because the word “heart” in Greek does not include the word “mind,” He added the word “mind” when He stated the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:35-38; Mk. 12:29-30; Lk. 10:27; Ex. 20:1-8). If you love God, you will want to keep His commandments out of love and not obligation: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 Jo. 5:3). Do you love Jesus’ commandments out of devotion?
The seven benefits in having a heart for God’s law. Although not a path to salvation, there are seven benefits to studying God’s law. First, through the study of the law your sins become known to you so that you can repent of them (Ro. 3:20; 7:7). If the law did not apply, there would be no sins for God to reveal to you. And if you believe that you are without sin, the truth is not within you (1 Jo. 1:8). Second, compliance with the law out of devotion (not obligation) is a sign of your love for Jesus. Jesus says that if you love Him, we will keep His commandments (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6; Matt. 19:17). He is the great “I AM” who gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Jo. 8:58; Ex. 3:14). Yet, Jesus came to correct people’s motives in following the Ten Commandments. He wants your obedience to be motivated by love and not obligation. He therefore summarized the Ten Commandments as something that comes naturally once a person loves the Lord and his or her neighbor (Matt. 22:35-38; Lk. 10:27; Dt. 6:5). Moses taught us to live obediently as it is written. Jesus taught us to love obediently as it is written. Third, voluntary compliance with God’s law and the Holy Spirit sets you free from slavery to sin. If you obey the law for the right reasons, you become a slave to righteousness. Yet, if you rebel against the law, you become slaves to sin (Ro. 6:12, 16; Jo. 8:34; Ro. 1:24-28; Eph. 4:19; Ps. 81:12). Fourth, voluntary compliance with God’s law helps you to live a holy life, as every believer is called to do (1 Pet. 1:16; Lev. 11:44). When you are holy through moral conduct and a loving heart, you become a light to others (Dt. 4:5-6; Matt. 5:14). Conversely, you dishonor God and repel others when you break the law (Ro. 2:23-24). Fifth, the Ten Commandments provide a standard of righteousness to aspire to, not a means for salvation (Ro. 3:20; 2 Tim. 3:16). Sixth, voluntary compliance with God’s law brings wisdom and understanding (Dt. 4:5-6; Ps. 119:98-105). Only “fools” reject the wisdom of God’s law (Prov. 1:7). Finally, Moses promises certain conditional “blessings” (not salvation) for those who follow the law (Dt. 28:1-13). One example is in the area of health (Ex. 15:26; Lev. 26:3-13; Dt. 28:2-14). Another example of this is in the area of prayer. When you follow the law out of devotion (not obligation), He can clearly hear your prayers (Jam. 5:16). Conversely, when you openly rebel against Him, your prayers may be “hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7; Jo. 9:31; Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:9; Isa. 1:15). The reason for this is that sin cannot be in His presence (Hab. 1:13). When you act righteously, your prayers are a sweet aroma (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3). Are you eager to share God’s law with others?
Ezra leads the Jews in celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles /Sukkot. Finally, Ezra led the Jews in celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles / Booths / Sukkot, in the exact manner God required. “14 And they found written in the Law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. 15 And that they were to proclaim and circulate a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of other trees with thick branches, to make booths, as it is written.” 16 So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courtyards and in the courtyards of the house of God, and in the public square at the Water Gate, and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. 17 The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths. Indeed, the sons of Israel had not done so since the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was very great rejoicing. 18 He read from the Book of the Law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a festive assembly in accordance with the ordinance.” (Neh. 8:14-18). Solomon dedicated the first Temple during the “feast” during the seventh month of Ethanim (2 Chr. 5:2-5; 1 Kgs. 8:1-2). This would have correlated with the Feast of Tabernacles /Booths or Sukkot (Lev. 23:33-43). When he was still walking with God, Solomon observed the three yearly feasts and sacrifices in Jerusalem (2 Chr. 8:12-131 Kgs. 9:25; Dt. 16:1-17). These included the Feasts of Unleavened Bread, Weeks, and Tabernacles (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:22-23; Dt. 16:16). Yet, even Solomon did not properly follow the law regarding the Feast of Tabernacles. Nor did David or any of the kings after Solomon. Nehemiah records that the Jews had sadly failed to observe the Feast of Tabernacles in the manner God prescribed by living in booths for a week since the days of Joshua (Neh. 8:17).
The Jews dwelt in booths celebrate when God dwelt with them in the wilderness6
Be blessed to celebrate Jesus during the Feast of Tabernacles, Booths, or Sukkot. Sukkot was the last of God’s holy days. It celebrates when God came to dwell or “tabernacle” amongst us. It also foreshadowed both when Christ dwelled with us and when He will again “tabernacle” with us during His 1,000-year reign on Earth. This Feast celebrates God. It is a “perpetual statute throughout your generation. . . ” (Lev. 23:41). If you celebrate it, “your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands. . .” (Dt. 16:15). God’s holy days revealed the “shadows” of Christ (Col. 2:17). The “holy convocations” or “miqras” can also be translated as “rehearsals.” (Lev. 23:2). Few Christians observe this holy feast because we are freed from any legal obligation to do so (Col. 2:16-17). Yet, out of devotion and not obligation, we also have reason to celebrate Jesus at this time. He again promises to bless all your labors if you do so (Dt. 16:15). Why turn down a chance to celebrate Jesus and be blessed in the process?
Celebrate that Jesus once dwelt amongst us. This festival lasted eight days and began on the 15th day of the seventh month of the religious calendar or the first month of the civil calendar (Lev. 23:39). This celebrates when the Jews made a “sukkot” or tabernacle for God to dwell with the Jews: “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell (‘tabernacle’) among them.” (Ex. 25:8). This is your chance to celebrate that Jesus came to dwell with mankind in human form. He revealed His glory and died for your sins.
Celebrate Jesus’ likely birthday. For several reasons, Jesus was most likely born at the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles. First, Jesus’ mother Mary became pregnant when John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth was six months pregnant (Lk. 1:26). We also know when Elizabeth conceived based upon what the Bible says that her husband Zacharias was doing at the time. Zacharias was a priest of the division of Abijah (Lk. 1:5; 1 Chr. 24:10). He received an announcement from God regarding the birth of John the Baptist while burning incense in preparation for Passover during the month Sivan (Lk. 1:5-25). The angel came to Mary during the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (Lk. 1:26). Nine months later would be Jesus’ birth during the festival of Sukkot or during the Jewish month of Tishrei (Chumney, The Seven Festivals of the Messiah (Treasure House 2003 p. 189)). If Jesus was not born on the Feast of Tabernacles, God would not have given us such precise detail regarding the timing of Mary’s conception. Moreover, for Christ’s birthday to fall on one of God’s seven holy days fits within the pattern of each major event in Christ’s life falling on one of God’s seven holy days. His birth should be no exception. Second, Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be called Immanuel, which means “God with Us” (Is. 7:14). John tells us that the Word (of God) became flesh and “dwelt sukkat” (or tabernacled) among us (Jo. 1:14). Col. 2:9 states, “For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily.” The very purpose of Sukkat was to celebrate when God came to dwell with His people (Ex. 25:8; 29:44-45). We celebrate Christ’s birthday to remember when Christ came to dwell or tabernacle with us. Third, Sukkot took place during Tishrei, the first month on the civil calendar. Nisan was the first month of the religious calendar. We have both a physical and a spiritual birth. Jesus died in the first month of the religious calendar, Nisan. A logical pattern would exist for His birth to correspond with the first month of the civil calendar, Tishrei. Fourth, after Jesus’ birth, the angel of the Lord told the shepherds that he brought “good news of great joy which will be for all the people.” (Lk. 2:10). Sukkot was the season of joy (Dt. 16:13-15). Tishrei was also the rainy season. Rain is a symbol of blessing, life, and God’s Word (Dt. 11:10-17; 32:1-3; 1 Ki. 18:41-46). The lack of rain is symbol of judgment (1 Kgs. 8:33-43). Hosea said that the Messiah would come like rain on the earth (Hos. 6:3). The Holy Spirit also later poured out like rain (Acts 2:1-8; 14-21). Fifth, baby Jesus was laid in a manger (Lk. 2:12). The Greek work for manger “phatn’esss” is also translated in the Bible as a “stall.” (Lk. 13:15). The word Sukkot literally means “shelters, stables, booths, stalls, or huts.” Jacob is likewise said to have made a “booth” or “stall” for his animals while traveling to Succoth (Gen 33:17). The people were to live in booths during Sukkot. Although His booth or stall was meant for animals, Jesus would have fulfilled the Law by being born in such a booth or stall. Sixth, during the time of Sukkot, the Jews all had to travel to Jerusalem (Dt. 16:16). Bethlehem was only four miles from Jerusalem. There may have been no lodging available at the time because of the number of religious pilgrims in the area. Finally, the wise men, possibly rabbis living in Babylon, knew to come because they saw Jesus’ star in the east (Matt. 2:2). During Sukkot, they would be living outside in structures where they would see the stars at night. Thus, there are many reasons to celebrate Jesus during Sukkot.
Celebrate Jesus by depending upon Him. To remember their time in the wilderness, the Jews build small booths or tents to dwell in for one week. The temporary structures were a means to remind the Jews to depend upon God, not themselves. Jesus also wants you to depend upon Him for your needs and not your own works or wealth.
The required balance in studying God’s law. It might be tempting to see the Jews’ efforts to live in booths as evidence of legalism. When studying the law, it is important to note what the law will not do. It is not a route to salvation. If that were the case, Christ’s death was not necessary (Gal. 2:21). Long before Jesus ever came, God condemned the Jewish religious leaders who had turned the law and the festivals into a set of ritualistic obligations. People did what they were told, but their hearts were not in it. “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:21; same Is. 66:3). Jesus’ greatest condemnations were therefore directed at religious leaders who turned the law into a set of legalistic rituals (e.g., Matt. 23:24). We must be careful not to do the same in studying the law. Christ came to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17). By faith in His atoning death, we are no longer judged under the law as a condition of our salvation: “But now we have been released from the law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Ro. 7:6; 8:3; Gal. 5:18). These warnings have caused many modern Christians to treat God’s law like toxic waste. Some assume that because Jesus fulfilled the penalty for breaking the law, there is no point in studying it. But this is also a mistake. In many cases, this is the equivalent of treating Jesus’ death on the cross as a license to sin (Ro. 6:1-2).