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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Writings

Nehemiah 8

Verses 1-18

THIRD DIVISION

The Authority of the Word

Nehemiah 8 . The Word of God upheld before the people.

Nehemiah 9 . The people humbled before God.

Nehemiah 10 . The covenant to observe the Word.

The RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF THE WORD OF GOD

Neh_7:73 , last clause, and Nehemiah 8

The great subject around which all else centres, in the third division of the Book of Nehemiah, is the re-establishment of the authority of the word of God. It is thus significant that the last recorded revival amongst the people of God, in Old Testament days, is concerned with setting up the walls and gates, and the re-assertion of the authority of the word of God. Further, it is clear that these two characteristics of this last revival are intimately connected and dependent one upon the other.

On the one hand, the building of the walls, the setting up of the gates, the appointment of porters, singers, and Levites, would all have been in vain unless carried out in accordance with the word of God.

On the other hand, having returned to God's ground for his people - the Land of Israel - having built the house, the walls and gates - this returned remnant find it possible, and comparatively easy, to obey the directions of the word. In Babylon much of the word would have become a dead letter, the very place making it impossible to carry out its injunctions except in a limited way. In the Land all becomes simple.

Has not this last revival of Old Testament days a voice for God's people in the closing days of Christendom? Does not the increasing evil of Christendom, the conflict for the truth, and the coming of the Lord, call for a true separation on the part of the people of God? And will not those who truly separate from the evil find themselves, like the remnant in Nehemiah's day, in a position which makes it possible for them to obey the word. And thus the revival of Nehemiah's day may point to the way in which the Spirit of God is specially working in these last days. The abounding evils demand separation, and separation makes possible obedience to the word of God.

These principles are illustrated for us in chapter 8 of Nehemiah. Having completed the building of the walls and the erection of the gates, "the people gathered themselves together as one man" with the desire to hear "the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel" (Verse 1).

It is important to note that all the people" (not simply those within the city) were concerned in this movement The closing sentence of Chapter 7 (which commences this fresh section of the Book) states that "the children of Israel were in their cities." The story immediately continues in chapter 8 by saying, "and all the people gathered themselves together as one man." This expression, "all the people" is repeated again and again (see vv. 3, 5, 6, 9: 11, 12, 13 and 17): This is important as interpretations have been forced upon the Book of Nehemiah which involve a distinction between those within the city and those without. This the picture will not, for one moment, allow. The people, whether within the walls or without, were "one" and gathered together "as one man." The walls were for the protection of the house, not the division of the people. They were not erected to create two parties among the people of God, and in the story did not do so.

The audience is composed of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding. And such was the earnestness of the people, that from morning until midday "the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law" (2, 3).

The word of God was read distinctly and the sense was given, that the people might understand the reading. And God signified His approval of this return to His word by recording the names of those specially concerned in this work, whether as associated with Ezra in turning to God in praise on the occasion of the opening of the book, or in actually reading and giving the sense of the word (4-8).

In the remaining portion of the chapter we see the immediate effect of the authority of the word being established over the people. As ever it reaches the conscience and stirs the heart. But conscience work comes first, "All the people wept, when they heard the words of the law" (9). As they listen to the word conscience tells them how far they have departed from its precepts. But if the word exposes the failure of man, it also reveals the faithfulness of the Lord. So that if they rightly weep because of their own failure, they are also encouraged to rejoice in the Lord, for they are told, "the joy of the Lord is your strength" (10-12).

Thus encouraged the people render to the Lord His portion. However great their failure, however much they may have to confess and in due time humble themselves before the Lord, yet their failure must not be made an occasion for depriving the Lord of His portion. Yea, their unfaithfulness only magnifies the more the unchanging faithfulness of the Lord, calling forth His people's praise.

Thus it comes to pass the people keep the feast of tabernacles. This was the last feast of the year, completing the cycle of feasts, and setting forth in type the glorious end of all God's ways with His people by which He will bring them into millennial blessing in spite of their long history of failure.

But not only do the people keep the feast, but they do so in accordance with the word. It was no new thing to keep the feast - the people had done so in a former revival under Ezra ( Ezra 3 ); but not since the days of Joshua had they kept it with booths "according to the ordinance" of the word (18 N. Tr.). And in our day may we not say that though the Lord's supper has been kept all through the dark ages, yet not until a few had been delivered from the captivity of men's religious systems, could it be divested of all the idolatrous ceremonial, and superstitious accretions of men, and once again kept in holy simplicity in the presence of the Lord. It marks a tendency to return to system when the supper begins to be surrounded once more with mystery and ceremonial, or certain chosen persons administer it, in a certain determined order of procedure, even if unwritten.

And just as the Lord's supper takes us on to the coming of the Lord, and yet is a feast of remembrance, so the feast of tabernacles looks on to the day of coming glory, if kept in accordance with the word, and yet is a feast of remembrance recalling how the Lord had led the people through a wilderness journey during which they dwelt in booths.

Keeping the feast according to the word rendered the occasion a very bright testimony in a very dark day, and brings to light a principle of immense encouragement, namely, the darker the day, and the weaker the circumstances, the brighter the testimony rendered by those who obey the word.

It was a dark day in Israel's history when Hezekiah kept his passover. But to find a parallel to Hezekiah's revival we have to go back two hundred and fifty years to the days of Solomon ( 2Ch_30:26 ). It was a yet darker day when Josiah kept his passover, and yet so bright was his revival, that even the palmy days of Solomon afforded no such testimony, and we have to go back five hundred years to the days of Samuel the prophet to find a parallel ( 2Ch_35:18 ).

But in Nehemiah's day the dispensation was wearing to its end - the darkness was deepening, the circumstances weaker than ever before, and yet owing to the fact that this feeble remnant acted according to the word, the testimony rendered by them was so bright that nothing can be found with which to compare it, throughout the years of the captivity, the long history of the Kings or in the days of the Judges, and to find a parallel we are carried back a thousand years to the days of Joshua the son of Nun (17).

How deeply suggestive and rich with encouragement is this beautiful scene, for the people of God who find themselves in the last dark days of the Church's history on earth. If such will but walk in holy separation from evil, and in obedience to the Word of God, they will find, though the darkness deepens all around, and the weakness of circumstances increase, that the privileges they enjoy, and the little witness they render, will be brighter and purer than through all the long history of failure of the Church in responsibility. Such a witness will find no parallel save in the early days of the Church's history.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 8". "Smith's Writings". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/nehemiah-8.html. 1832.