The Israelites were returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the city. Walls were reconstructed, homes remodeled, and worship was being re-established. The people who had lived in exile were now back in their homeland. It was an exciting time for the people of God, according to the book of Nehemiah.
In chapter 8 of his book, Nehemiah tells of the work of Ezra, the priest. He had brought together all the ancient scrolls of our Old Testament. He then stands up in front of the people on a wooden platform and reads it starting at the beginning. Once they saw him above them, all the people stood up and listened closely. The reading started at daybreak and lasted till noon.
The Levites and other priests had gathered with the people, and they also had the words of the Old Testament. As Ezra was reading, it says of these men that, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” (Nehemiah 8:8 – NIV 2011)
This one verse highlights how the Bible is to be taught and read. Two significant parts follow our reading of the Bible. First, there is a need to make it clear. The original word means that it was “translated.” That could refer to taking a foreign language and putting it into the people’s native tongue. It could also be a rephrasing of the ancient images into modern pictures to make them easier to understand.
The second part of that verse says they were giving the words meaning. Once the people knew what was written, they needed to see how that applied to their lives. So each passage was read, made sure it was understood clearly, and then given practical application. That would mean for them that they need to re-establish the temple and holy days as acts of worship of God.
That day the people were sad, filled with guilt and shame over the things they had not been doing for God. Nehemiah then informs the people not to be sad, instead to celebrate with great joy because “they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” (Nehemiah 8:12 – NIV 2011) The people could have been sad about all they disobeyed because they did not know God’s words; instead, they are happy to move forward with new information.
God has given us his book, and like the men helping Ezra that day, we are to make sure that we know what it says and how to apply it. Then, once that happens, we help others understand what it says and help them live it each day too. Encountering the scriptures should increase our understanding, change our behavior, and bring joy. If it doesn’t, then we are probably not using it correctly.