The Supreme Word of God.
If you navigate through your Bible to the book of Nehemiah, you find yourself amidst a massive inauguration ceremony. But unlike an occasion of honoring an upcoming president sworn into office, this was the inauguration of God’s Word.
It Was A Dark and Stormy Night… Seriously
It was a monumental time in the life of Israel. Great tribulation and severe discipline ended, only just recently. Joy and celebration soon followed. But why was the previous moment so bitter? Because the nation turned away from God, from God’s word. But to appreciate this celebrational inauguration, we need to understand the bitter backdrop.
Let’s rewind several generations before Nehemiah to learn about this previous time of rebellion.
The Calm After the Storm
The year was roughly 640 BC. Judah and Israel existed as divided kingdoms for 300 years. Both kingdoms experienced their share of good and bad kings ruling on the throne. In Judah, King Josiah reigned as the king at the young age of eight (imagine a 2nd grader ruling as king!). Josiah was one of those good kings who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”.
As an example of Josiah’s good reign, we find the account in 2nd Chronicles where he is cleaning house (both literally and structurally) in the nation of Judah. Josiah was putting together plans to repair the temple as it had been neglected during the previous times of idol worship by the preceding kings. During this house cleaning, Josiah’s men report to him with the curious words “We found this book.”
But this was not just some book lying on the ground- it was the word of God, the book of the law of the Lord! This discovery cut Josiah to the heart because he knew what this meant. It was a symbol that spoke to the depths of their abandonment of God, especially in terms of their complete disassociation with the word of God as ‘this book’.
At this point, you might think- but no one is perfect, what’s the big deal with backsliding from a perfect attentiveness to God’s word? After all, no one then or today reads the Bible like we should. Why was this discovery of the book in the temple not a good thing after all? When the historical climate of Judah is compared to the surrounding nations, this becomes clear.
Those Ignorant of History Are Doomed to Repeat It
For one, Judah (the southern nation) had already been informed of the fate of Israel (the northern nation) who was overthrown and besieged by Assyria. And what was the cause of their calamity? According to God’s prophets, Assyria came and overthrew the country because of their own desertion of God. They had failed to return to God’s word.
Evidently, Judah did not take this warning to heart, following the same pattern of desertion and idolatry. Although Josiah was commended by God for his reform efforts, it was simply too late for Judah. After the death of Josiah, Judah was overthrown just like Israel. The nation was destroyed by Babylon and into captivity they went.
This time of discipline was a severe time for Judah, documented most popularly by Jeremiah in his book we call ‘Lamentations’. The people underwent judgment for the generations who had continued to allow the temple to sit in ruins and the Word to remain covered with moss. They had thrown their Bibles on the shelf as it were, allowing dust and cobwebs to settle over the pages, year after year.
But God didn’t abandon his people. Coming to the end of their time of discipline, He stirred up the hearts of his people, calling them to rebuild and reestablish their city and temple. And with the fall of the Babylonian empire, the new Persian empire fully supported God’s people to return to their land and start over.
Two Heroes of the Faith
It is at this juncture that we find ourselves introduced to two men, Ezra and Nehemiah. These men arrive upon the scene with God’s people- Nehemiah the governor, overseeing the process of finishing the rebuilding program, and Ezra the scribe and priest who oversaw that the people of God were led back into proper covenantal relationship with Him.
This required a very vital task: returning to God’s word. This is that inauguration ceremony that we see in the book of Nehemiah chapter 8. It is the inauguration of God’s word- the very word that they previously abandoned, as the supreme word of authority and rule. The people assembled together in order to get back on track with what had been so vital for their well-being all along: God’s Word.
To ask it another way, how does this connect to our lives, both individually and corporately? By God’s grace, we may see that it connects in every possible way! Today, our generation in America is one that has no root in God’s Word. At least, that is the predominant message that is being conveyed in culture- even church culture!
How We Can Be Heroes
Apart from John 3:16, Joshua 24:25, 1st Corinthians 13:13 and a few other pop-culture verses, many of us remain totally disconnected and indeed disinterested with God’s word. We’ve left the temple in ruins and the book covered with dust and cobwebs! Do we really expect to live and thrive as God’s people while disassociated from His word?
Friend, this is God’s word to us! The preserved and delivered word must be read and enjoyed by His people from generation to generation. Surely the account written in the Old Testament is traced out, in order that we learn and take heed! The apostle Paul says concerning the Old Testament:
“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (English Standard Version, 1st Corinthians 10.6).
Food For Thought
We must take note of the examples placed before us. We must know that our only hope is to return to His word in hunger and desperation- just as the people came to Ezra asking for God’s Word. In consideration of this, I would like to invite you to read the book of Nehemiah chapter 8 and share in the monumental moment of God’s people returning to God’s Word.
Some of you reading this have fallen behind in regular Bible reading. As we all know, life happens, and days become filled with all sorts of things other than time for reading. But just as life demands that we find time to eat and to sleep for our physical vitality, we must also see the demand to find time for our spiritual vitality in regular Bible reading.
Let us not be like the Israelites in their time of discipline, but in their time of returning. Maybe you agree with me but don’t know where to start. After reading the book of Nehemiah 8, I invite you to also check out episode two of the podcast in which I talk about Bible study as a discipline.
There’s plenty of great recommendations and ways to help you return to God’s word. But all of this happens if and only when we recognize God’s word as supreme.
When that happens, we will see it as that which is inescapable and irreplaceable to daily living. Let us return to God’s word by following the example from the book of Nehemiah!
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