These chapters in Nehemiah remind us that the same energy and dedication we give to achieving ambitions in this world need to be applied to our spiritual lives. Reading, learning, and applying Scripture and worshiping and obeying God should be unwavering goals in our lives.
One of my seminary professors used to say that we have plenty of celebrities but not enough saints. And if we try to find people of integrity, we usually discover they’re not in the spotlight; no journalist interviews them; no talk show introduces them. There is no annual awards ceremony for people of integrity.
If there were, Nehemiah would have deserved the honor. He continues here in his journal we call the book of Nehemiah, recording his efforts to keep Jerusalem, not only safe, but also spiritually sound.
He realizes that finished walls around Jerusalem aren’t the only issue. The people of Judah need physical protection, but they also need spiritual revival. And Nehemiah is gonna tackle both issues here in chapters 7 and 8.
Now the first issue Nehemiah deals with is the physical restoration of the Jewish people in chapter 7. We’re told here in verse 1 that Nehemiah appoints “the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites.” The gatekeepers normally guarded the temple, but here they’re assigned to stand guard at the city gates.
The gates of Jerusalem are only as good as the character of the guards. I have read that on several occasions, the great wall of China was breached by invading armies. They didn’t scale the walls; they bribed the gatekeepers and got in.
Nehemiah personally appoints these guards. Evidently, the singers and Levites, who serve at the temple, helped guard the gates as well.
Now Nehemiah gives administrative responsibility for Jerusalem to two men: his brother Hanani and another man named Hananiah.
Hananiah is described here in verse 2 as a man who was “faithful and God-fearing.” Nehemiah wasn’t looking for a celebrity; he needed a man of integrity.
And that’s an important lesson for the church to this day. We appoint men to leadership, not because of their bank account or some impressive resume, but because of their godly character (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).
Here in verse 3 Nehemiah instructs these two men, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot.” In other words, to guard against the threat of attack, these gates are to be opened only a couple hours each morning.
Verse 4 reveals one of the major challenges facing the people of Jerusalem; it says that while, “the city was wide and large … the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.”
Nehemiah writes in verse 5:
God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first.
In other words, as he’s trying to figure out how to repopulate the city, the Lord gives him the idea to register the people according to their genealogies – their family trees. This is gonna set the stage for a draft later on in chapter 11, where people from Judah will be selected to come and live inside the city walls of Jerusalem.
This book Nehemiah found is described here in verse 5 as “the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first.” This is a record of the first wave of people who returned from Persia under Zerubbabel. It established that they were of pure Jewish ancestry and could resettle in Jerusalem.
Now from verse 6 all the way to the end of chapter 7, Nehemiah gives us the names in that genealogy. In fact, with the exception of verses 70-72, it repeats almost word for word what’s written in the second chapter of the book of Ezra – and we covered this content back then.
So Nehemiah is now ready to begin the process of repopulating the city of Jerusalem. But that’s got to be put on hold so he can address the second critical issue.
Physical restoration is important, but so is the spiritual restoration of the people.
So here in chapter 8, the emphasis shifts from rebuilding to revival. And Nehemiah steps aside now as Ezra steps forward.
You might remember that Ezra, the Bible scholar and priest, had arrived in Jerusalem some thirteen years before Nehemiah. So, he was still around, teaching the people while Nehemiah headed up the building project. Now, for the first time in the book of Nehemiah, Ezra steps up to the microphone.
Verse 1 tells us the people of Judah assemble in great numbers in the “square before the Water Gate.” A week earlier the walls had been finished. Now the Feast of Trumpets is going to be observed, marking the new year on Israel’s calendar.
As the people gather, they ask Ezra to read the “Book of the Law of Moses” to them. This is the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.
They had built a little wooden platform for Ezra to stand on, and – get this – he reads the Scriptures before the people “from early morning until midday” according to verse 3 … for six hours! And we’re told here that—the people are “attentive to the Book of the Law,” and verse 5 says they stood the entire time!
I don’t know how many people would listen to a six-hour sermon, standing up – and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t wanna preach a sermon that long. So, this is a remarkable time of revival, frankly. It reminds me of those all-night prayer meetings we read about in church history, which had such an impact on God’s people and God’s work.
Well, Ezra is assisted by a number of Levites, verse 8 says, who “read from the book … and … gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” The Levites follow the reading of the Scripture with an exposition of it, explaining its meaning.
The clear reading and preaching and teaching of Scripture make a great impact on these people, who are more than ready to follow after God.
We’re told here in verse 12:
All the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
In other words, the preaching service ends with dinner-on-the-grounds as the people celebrate the goodness of God.
The next day the people come back again – and this proves it wasn’t some quick emotional response earlier. Verse 13 tells us:
The heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law.
What they find in their study is they need to observe the Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths. This means living inside booths made of branches – little lean-tos – for seven days; this reminded them of God’s faithfulness to their forefathers who traveled through the wilderness. So, they observed the feast, and on each of these seven days, they listen as the Word of God is read.
Maybe what you need today, my friend, is a revival … a rededication to God’s Word. Well, let me encourage you to follow the example here.
The Jewish people experienced a revival as they listened to the Word of God. They were convicted by the preaching and teaching of God’s Word; they began to obey what God’s Word said – even though for them it meant the discomfort of living in a little booth for seven days. But they obeyed and ended up experiencing great joy as they rededicated their lives to the Lord.
With that we’re out of time today; may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.