“So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.’ And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them”
After long decades of exile, the people of Judah were permitted to return to the Promised Land. This marked the slow restoration not only of Jerusalem and her Temple, but of God’s covenant people as well. As part of the restoration process, Ezra the scribe had the people gather together in the open square to hear God’s word as recorded in the Torah (Nehemiah 8:1-8). The people were eager to hear the word and the Levites made its meaning plain to them (8:7-8 cf Deuteronomy 27:8). We may be shocked to learn that at the hearing of God’s word the people mourned and lamented (8:9). Like the great prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-7) and the apostle Peter (Luke 5:1-8), the people of Judah became aware of their sinfulness when confronted with the word. In this regard, the word is like a mirror, casting our reflection back at us, revealing to us our moral blemishes and imperfections. For those of us who desire to walk uprightly in communion with God, our sin is cause for mourning. The psalmist felt this also. “For mine iniquities are gone over mine head,” he wrote, “as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness. I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long” (Psalm 38:4-6). There is good news, however, for those who mourn, for those who feel godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10). Christ the Lord has promised that they will be comforted (Matthew 5:2). Mysteriously, and wonderfully, the same word that causes mourning for sin also causes rejoicing over the solution to the sin problem. David understood this. “Iniquities prevail against me” declared the sweet psalmist of Israel,lamenting sin in his life.Nevertheless, David was moved to celebrate sin’s blessed solution. “As for our transgressions,” he wrote, “thou shalt purge them away” (Psalm 65:3). The people in Ezra’s time were made aware of these blessed realities also; rejoicing greatly “because they understood the words that were declared to them.” May this be continually true of us also. As we read God’s word, may its truth penetrate our hearts, transform our minds, and fill us “with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). It takes real strength to walk a walk worthy of the high call placed on our lives (Philippians 3:14). Let us remember, however, that the joy of the LORD is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Walk strong in the Lord today, dear saints, and in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10).