by Larry Stockstill
A sad Christian is no witness for God. Ezra read the Book of the Law to the Jewish remnant, and when they heard God's words, "all the people chanted, ‘Amen! Amen!' as they lifted their hands toward heaven. Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground" (Nehemiah 8:6).
Why should church services and times of preaching be times of sadness and boredom? When the people wept after hearing God's words, Nehemiah told them, "Go and celebrate with a feast of choice foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared" (v. 10). The Israelites obeyed and celebrated "with great joy because they had heard God's words and understood them"
Later that month, in celebrating a major festival that had been unobserved for many years, the people lived in booths for seven days, and "everyone was filled with great joy" (v. 17). Another observance followed, and this time for six hours at a time the Levites led in worship, saying, "Stand up and praise the Lord your God, for he lives from everlasting to everlasting!" Then they continued, "Praise his glorious name! It is far greater than we can think or say" (9:5).
Why should Christians ever lose their joy? Someone has said that if the devil can't steal your joy, he can't spoil your goods. Even in your most difficult moments, look to eternity, where you will forever rejoice, world without end. Take a drink today from the joy of heaven, for it is your strength!
73 So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the Temple servants, and some of the common people settled near Jerusalem. The rest of the people returned to their own towns throughout Israel.
2 So on October 8
4 Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform that had been made for the occasion. To his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah. To his left stood Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam.5 Ezra stood on the platform in full view of all the people. When they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet.
6 Then Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and all the people chanted, “Amen! Amen!” as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah—then instructed the people in the Law while everyone remained in their places.8 They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.” For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 And Nehemiah
11 And the Levites, too, quieted the people, telling them, “Hush! Don’t weep! For this is a sacred day.”12 So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.
13 On October 9
16 So the people went out and cut branches and used them to build shelters on the roofs of their houses, in their courtyards, in the courtyards of God’s Temple, or in the squares just inside the Water Gate and the Ephraim Gate.17 So everyone who had returned from captivity lived in these shelters during the festival, and they were all filled with great joy! The Israelites had not celebrated like this since the days of Joshua
18 Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God on each of the seven days of the festival. Then on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly, as was required by law.
9 On October 31
5 Then the leaders of the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah—called out to the people: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, for he lives from everlasting to everlasting!” Then they prayed:
“May your glorious name be praised! May it be exalted above all blessing and praise!
6 “You alone are the Lord. You made the skies and the heavens and all the stars. You made the earth and the seas and everything in them. You preserve them all, and the angels of heaven worship you.
7 “You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him from Ur of the Chaldeans and renamed him Abraham.8 When he had proved himself faithful, you made a covenant with him to give him and his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites. And you have done what you promised, for you are always true to your word.
9 “You saw the misery of our ancestors in Egypt, and you heard their cries from beside the Red Sea.
13 “You came down at Mount Sinai and spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and instructions that were just, and decrees and commands that were good.14 You instructed them concerning your holy Sabbath. And you commanded them, through Moses your servant, to obey all your commands, decrees, and instructions.
15 “You gave them bread from heaven when they were hungry and water from the rock when they were thirsty. You commanded them to go and take possession of the land you had sworn to give them.
16 “But our ancestors were proud and stubborn, and they paid no attention to your commands.17 They refused to obey and did not remember the miracles you had done for them. Instead, they became stubborn and appointed a leader to take them back to their slavery in Egypt! But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. You did not abandon them,18 even when they made an idol shaped like a calf and said, ‘This is your god who brought you out of Egypt!’ They committed terrible blasphemies.
19 “But in your great mercy you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud still led them forward by day, and the pillar of fire showed them the way through the night.20 You sent your good Spirit to instruct them, and you did not stop giving them manna from heaven or water for their thirst.21 For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell!
9 Am I not as free as anyone else? Am I not an apostle? Haven’t I seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes? Isn’t it because of my work that you belong to the Lord?2 Even if others think I am not an apostle, I certainly am to you. You yourselves are proof that I am the Lord’s apostle.
3 This is my answer to those who question my authority.
7 What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? What shepherd cares for a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk?8 Am I expressing merely a human opinion, or does the law say the same thing?9 For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.”
11 Since we have planted spiritual seed among you, aren’t we entitled to a harvest of physical food and drink?12 If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ.
13 Don’t you realize that those who work in the temple get their meals from the offerings brought to the temple? And those who serve at the altar get a share of the sacrificial offerings.14 In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it.15 Yet I have never used any of these rights. And I am not writing this to suggest that I want to start now. In fact, I would rather die than lose my right to boast about preaching without charge.16 Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News!
17 If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust.18 What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. That’s why I never demand my rights when I preach the Good News.
12 What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord,
whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.
13 The Lord looks down from heaven
and sees the whole human race.
14 From his throne he observes
all who live on the earth.
15 He made their hearts,
so he understands everything they do.
16 The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
17 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
for all its strength, it cannot save you.
18 But the Lord watches over those who fear him,
those who rely on his unfailing love.
19 He rescues them from death
and keeps them alive in times of famine.
20 We put our hope in the Lord.
He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
for our hope is in you alone.
11 If you punish a mocker, the simpleminded become wise;
if you instruct the wise, they will be all the wiser.
12 The Righteous One
he will bring disaster on them.