Nehemiah Week 8:
Pastor Terry Inman
Did you ever wonder why we raise our hands when we worship. Do you know why we stand, bow or prostrate ourselves? Do you know why we say AMEN? Do you know where preaching and teaching, come from?
It all started in Nehemiah chapter eight at a rock concert! The broken and burned out stones had been restored. (not the rolling stones)
This is the beginning of a national revival! Sanballat taunted, “Will they worship?” Yes they will! There has been a lot of spiritual warfare but now we take it to a new whole level of triumph with restored worship!
The walls are up the gates are in. The tribes are settling into their rebuilt homes. This small group of Jewish survivors waited for this day of restoration for nearly 70 years. Now in 52 days the walls were rebuilt! They had a lot to cheer about. There is nothing like a victory celebration after a long period of defeat and despair.
That’s exactly what God wants to do in our lives. When we cry out over our spiritual condition. When we confess our rejection of Him and His ways, He is gracious. He hears and responds. The rebuilding begins. Our identity and security in Christ is reclaimed. We have reason to rejoice!
Chapter seven ends and eight begins with a religious festival. “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.” (Neh. 7.73-8.1 NIV)
This was not the same Watergate that Nixon’s people visited in the 70’s. Archeologists did unearth some of this gate and tower also in the 70’s.
This square was located just outside the Watergate near the spring of Gihon that fed the pool of Siloam. This is where Jesus healed a blind man.
Now with the backdrop of these reconstructed walls, Ezra the priest mounted an elevated stage flanked by six or seven leaders on each side. As the early morning sun peaked over the rebuilt walls, he opened the sacred scroll and began reading it to the masses gathered below. (v. 4)
This was the five books of Moses called the Torah. Israel was intended to be a theocracy—a government by God. The Law was given to Moses on Mt Sinai. It was their history and polity—much like our constitution. We are a nation of laws. They were a nation of God’s laws.
The people initiated this gathering. “All the people assembled as one man in the square”. (v.1) They knew the rebuilding of their city walls was nothing short of God’s intervention. Nehemiah inspired them. They repented of their spiritual negligence and were ready to return to their covenant relationship with Him.
Everyone—men, women and children were present. “So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. (Neh. 8.2 NIV)
He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. (Neh. 8. 3 NIV)
I was raised in church before I could understand. But when I was five years old I understood enough to walk to the front and pray with my Father to make Jesus my Lord and Savior. Kids may not get everything but they feel the spirit and experience the love of God.
We offer bible teaching and training to our children in a way they enjoy and understand. When you skip church or leave them home or schedule them for Sunday morning sports you do them and yourself an injustice!
The bible says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Prov. 22.6 NIV) God told His people to impress His commandments “on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut. 6.10 NIV)
We complain that they have taken the bible out of our schools. Well have we have taken the bible out of our homes and the kids out of our church!
They all stood at attention listening to the reading of the law from daybreak to noon. Many of them had never seen or heard the five books of Moses before. It was all, new—much like the bible is to many in our culture. Every generation needs the Word in a way they understand.
As Ezra opened the book from the high platform, the people stood to their feet. There was an amazing sense of awe and respect. This was their Holy Book! We now have 66 chapters. Do you respect it enough to read it, study it and listen to preaching and teaching from it on a regular basis?
We have been in this incredible book of Nehemiah now for eight weeks. How many weeks have you been here? Are you getting consistent exposure to the truth? I’m not reproving you. I’m just asking questions.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped (built) for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3.16-17)
The response to the word prompted several things we practice in worship. They stood and praised the Lord. They lifted their hands and responded with AMEN, AMEN. They bowed down and worshiped face down in the dirt.
Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. (Neh. 8.5 NIV)
Let’s break this down. Standing is an act of reverence. We stand for dignitaries. We stand for the National Anthem. We stand in God’s presence. We stand to express our praise. They stood for at least 6 hrs!
The Levites said, (worship leaders)“Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.” (Neh. 9.5 NIV)
They lifted their hands. Yadah is one of the seven ancient Hebrew words translated as “Praise” in the Psalms. It means, “extend or cast out the hands in worship” This is the body language of praise. The antonym or opposite meaning of this term is " wringing the hands." “I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will (yadah) lift up my hands.
Extended hands suggest submission or openness and expectation. Raised hands demonstrate adoration and exaltation. I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. (1Tim. 2.8 NIV)
As Ezra was reading the law and they were lifting their hands and responding with AMEN, AMEN. It was a way of expressing affirmation and agreement. We call it “buy in”. “Amen” is a way of owning it. Here it is a double AMEN. It a…Yes! Yes!
They bowed down and worshiped with their faces to the ground.
Barak is another Hebrew word for praise. It is "to kneel down, to bless God. It’s a physical act of adoration. “Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel (Barak) before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” (Psa. 95.6 NIV)
Bowing down is mentioned at least 15 times in the Old Testament. They also fell face down in reverence. Prostration is the ultimate expression of reverent awe. It’s relinquishment to God’s will.
When Moses received the Ten Commandments on stone tablets. He fell to the ground at once and worshiped. (Ex. 34.8 NIV) Now hundreds of year’s later Israel renews their covenant with God, face down. I think its time for the church to humbly fall face down to the ground!
Prostration can be voluntary or involuntary. We can choose to humble ourselves “under God’s mighty hand” or experience the sheer force of God’s presence and power—that may knock us down. Some call it being slain. I prefer resting in the Spirit. Face down or flat on our back both are a posture to experience God’s presence and purposes.
(v. 7-8) lists thirteen Levites that were stand-up tutors. They. Nehemiah says they, “Instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.” (Neh. 8.7-8 NIV)
“Making it clear” (Heb. meporas) is to divide, define, illuminate or explain. This is where we get expository preaching. I love to unpack, clarify and apply the scriptures to our lives.
Paul writes, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2.15 NKJV)
“Dividing” is “making a straight cut”. It is correctly interpreting and applying scripture. The people were weeping as they listened. (v.9) Straightforward truth brings heartfelt conviction and repentance.
Hearing the word was the beginning of revival!
Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levites calmed them down. “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” (v.9) It was the beginning of the Feast of the Tabernacles or booths-- a commemoration of Israel’s nomadic forty-year campout in the desert. It was time to celebrate!
It was also a joyful celebration of ingathering or harvest called sukkot.
“Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.(Deut. 16.14-15 NIV)
Actually real repentance (not just remorse) leads to more joy. The Levites told them it was time to party. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8.10 NIV)
Nehemiah was actually telling them to go off their diets. Literally “eat the fat portions” and down the sweet sodas! He also told them to share with the less fortunate. Why because the joy of the Lord is your strength!
Actually this means the “joy of the Lord is your fortress or stronghold”. They had just rebuilt the walls. They were celebrating at the foot of the wall next to a towering fortress.
He uses this occasion to proclaim that the joy of the Lord is our fortification. Jesus is our security! He is our safe place! “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psa 32. 7 NIV)
This brings up one final expression for praise in the Psalms, (Tehillah)
It is the song of joy! Isaiah the Prophet was revealing Jesus the Messiah—the coming protector, restorer and liberator. Isaiah prophesies…
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God—to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise (tehillah) instead of a spirit of despair. (Isa 61-1-3 NIV)
Nehemiah who began this rebuilding project crying out is now leading the party! We should weep over our failure to follow God, but we also rejoice in His restoring love and forgiveness. The joy of the Lord is our strength! He is our defense! He is our identity. He is our security. Let’s celebrate!