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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Month

September 2020

Nehemiah 8:4: Right (and left) hand people

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.‘ NIV

First, a general comment on what we have looked at thus far in chapter 8. It comes from F.B.Meyer, and his book ‘Devotional Commentary’, pages 206, 207: ‘Surely this was the first public Bible-reading! When will the people be again as hungry for the Word of God as those Jews who stood in the open space from early dawn till the scorching noon?’

But then more specifically on verse 4, I note that Ezra is the big name; one of the names to go down in Biblical history. However, to his right and left there were other people alongside him. Their names are not necessarily well-known, but I want to say it takes a team. It seems to me that the kind of leadership we see repeatedly in the pages of the Bible is mainly of the shared variety. You can think of ‘famous’ pastors of widely-known churches across the world today, and I can pretty much guarantee you this: the ‘success’ of such churches will be partly because of a whole lot of other effective and faithful people who never get the limelight, but they are happy to serve. That is not to diminish the part played by the strongly gifted senior leader, but they could not do what they do alone.PRAYER: Lord, we praise you for all who lead in your church. Some are given a high profile, but many are not. However, may they all glorify you in humble service, and desire only ‘to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds..to labour and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that they do your will.

Nehemiah 8:2-3: People of the Book

all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Lawbefore the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 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.” NIV

For effective preaching to happen two things have to synchronise. There must be ‘priests’ (leaders), like Ezra, who have a heart to set the Lord’s Word before the people; and there must be a people who have hearts to heed what God says. This was a long service by any standards, but the people were alert and attentive. It caused me to remember Luke’s statement about the first Christian church in Jerusalem: ‘’They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…’’ (Acts 2:42a). (By the way, the Bible reading was probably the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Old Testament. If Ezra did not read all of it, he no doubt read large chunks. The Pentateuch, it has to be confessed, contains large sections of Scripture we may find difficult to digest. So it’s good to be reminded that this is God’s Word and it is all important).

But I’m also reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy:

’Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.’’ (1 Timothy 4:13 New Living Translation).

The public reading of Scripture is very important. This is where the more liturgical churches may have an advantage over the ‘free’ congregations at times. The reading of both Old and New Testament passages is embedded in their services.

 If you get the opportunity to read the Bible out loud in a service, approach your task with reverence, care, thought and prayer. It is God’s Word you are handling, and you want people to understand’’ what He is saying.

PRAYER: Thank you Lord for the fact that your Word is so freely available to us. Thank you for those who have given their lives to put it in our hands. Give us hearts to sit at your feet and listen attentively.

Nehemiah 8:1: ‘As one man’


all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.“NIV

I confess, I look at this verse with not a little sadness, as well as longing. I miss the days when we could assemble in this way. (But let’s be honest, we often took it for granted, did we not?).

I am grateful, of course, that we can still gather as one on-line, and I commend you for the loving, caring unity you have continued to display throughout this long and difficult season. It’s wonderful to see.

The undeniable (and indestructible) truth is that we are ‘’one’’ people in Jesus (Ephesians 2:15) whether or not we can meet in one place.

By the way, I couldn’t help but think it significant that this great Bible ‘convention’ took place ‘’in the square before the Water Gate.’’ Paul, in Ephesians 5:26, writes about ‘’the washing with water through the word…’’

A friend, who had been a backslider from the faith, and came home to Christ in his 50’s, bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t remember as much of the Bible as he wanted to. He read it greedily, but couldn’t retain it. ‘But I suppose it’s like water going through a sieve,’ he said. ‘It cleanses as it goes.’

PRAYER: Lord, may your Word continue to have its cleansing effect in our lives, and may we put ourselves repeatedly in ‘the shower’ – in the place where its waters can pour over us.

Nehemiah 8:1: Hunger for God

all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.” NIV

‘’They told Ezra…to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses…’’

‘About a week after the wall was finished, all the people assembled in Jerusalem. The physical restoration of the city’s defences had been completed; now the time had come to focus on the spiritual restoration of the people.’ Tom Hale: ‘Applied OT Commentary, p.761.

God’s Word lay at the centre of this renewal.

I have set myself to not only read Nehemiah, but pray through the book. It’s not always easy to turn what you’re reading into prayer, but I have found it a powerful thing to do, and it is also an aid to meditation. I believe it helps to get the Word of God into your heart – and that’s where you want it, as a safeguard against sin (Ps.119:11).

As I read this verse, it prompted me to pray, with some conviction, for spiritual hunger among us. Here the people were asking for God’s Word (‘’…which the LORD had commanded for Israel’’). I think the implication is that they both wanted to hear and do what God said.

How much do you want God’s Book? How keen are you to hear it, read it, study it, and live under its authority?

The psalmist wrote: ‘’Oh how I love your law!’’ (Psalm 119:97). A practical implication of such love has already been stated in verse 16: ‘’I delight in your decrees: I will not neglect your word.’’

PRAYER: Lord, please forgive us for any complacency, or lukewarmness towards your Word. May we love it as we should, and give our attention to it in order to obey it.

Nehemiah 7: 6-69: Give me a boring job

These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town, in company with Zerubbabel, Joshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum and Baanah):The list of the men of Israel:…………(please see list in your Bible) …..63 And from among the priests:the descendants of Hobaiah, Hakkoz and Barzillai (a man who had married a daughter of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by that name). 64 These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. 65 The governor, therefore, ordered them not to eat any of the most sacred food until there should be a priest ministering with the Urim and Thummim.66 The whole company numbered 42,360, 67 besides their 7,337 male and female slaves; and they also had 245 male and female singers. 68 There were 736 horses, 245 mules,[ 69 435 camels and 6,720 donkeys.” NIV

Reading this chapter caused me to think of a Christian lady who said she loved to do ‘boring’ jobs. By this she meant that she was happy to work behind the scenes, doing certain things some people might regard as ‘boring’. But such work is always important in the church, and certain vital things that need to get done won’t be achieved without it.

As I indicated yesterday, you may not find this to be the most inspiring part of Nehemiah, but it underlines for me the importance of lists, of names, of numbers, of record keeping and book keeping (financial recording) – of administration and organisation. Church life would be chaotic without it. Everything should be done ‘’decently and in order.’’

PRAYER: Thank you Lord for all the work done faithfully behind the scenes to make the public ministry of the church possible. Thank you for those who do it.

Nehemiah 7: 4-5: What has God put in your heart?

Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. This is what I found written there:” NIV

You may not find what comes next in Nehemiah 7 to be the most inspiring part of the book. (On the other hand, some people might). But remember, Nehemiah was carrying out what His God had put into His heart. So it’s important; it matters.

I simply want to say that God still speaks to the hearts of His people, and I wonder, what has God put into your heart? Also, what are you going to do with it? It may well be wise, in some cases, to keep on praying about it, if you’re not quite sure it is God’s voice you are hearing. It’s nearly always a good and prudent thing to talk it over with another mature Christian (or leader), but I do know God does drop things into His people’s hearts, and what an adventure life can become when we respond to His promptings.

I am in Boston Spa today because of something God ‘’God put…into my heart…’’ as I prayed and walked around an empty church building in Leeds 30 years ago. God’s promptings can alter the whole course of your life.

PRAYER: Lord God, I long for such a relationship with you that I can feel your tiniest nudges, and hear your faintest whispers. Help me, Lord, to respond with full obedience.

Nehemiah 7:3: On guard

I said to them, ‘The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, make them shut the doors and bar them. Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses.’ NIV

We have seen previously that there was wisdom in getting people to build near their homes. Equally, how motivated they would be to stand guard near their homes.

Fathers, husbands, parents, how seriously do you take the responsibility to stand guard over your home in prayer? We cannot guarantee that we will always be protected from every negative experience. Nevertheless, God’s protection is very real. I believe it is important to pray for protection on our families, homes and lives. This should not be thought of merely in physical terms. Spiritual protection is necessary and important. There are so many threats and dangers to spiritual health. Not least, we are bombarded through media in its many forms, living, as we do, in a hyper-connected world.

Standing guard over your home may be first and foremost a prayer task. But it is not only about prayer. We must do more than pray. There are times when we have to lock the gates, bar the doors, and keep out what should not come in.

PRAYER: Lord, please help us. This is not easy. But with your help all things are possible.

Nehemiah 7: 1-2: Not nepotism

After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers, the musicians and the Levites were appointed. I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do.” NIV

Nehemiah did not put his brother in charge of Jerusalem (alongside another man, as it happens) because he was his brother. This was not nepotism. It was ‘’because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do’’ (2b). If only we would require similar qualifications for high office today. Character will always matter more than charisma. It’s been said that your gifts (talent) can only take you as far as your character can sustain you.

PRAYER: We pray for all in leadership, in church and state, that they may be people of integrity who desire to honour you and your ways over everything else.

Nehemiah 6: 17-19: Fifth column

17 Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. 18 For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shekaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. 19 Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.” NIV

You might expect this chapter to end on a triumphant high with verse 16. But in a sense we travel from mountain top to valley bottom. The positioning of this is interesting. Whether or not it was the writer’s intention, it reminds me that as long as we live in this world, we will never be so ‘successful’ that there are no more battles to fight.

Furthermore, the most difficult struggles for the church are always those which arise from within. There always have been ‘false bretheren’ who, whilst appearing to be part of the true faith community, actively work against it from inside. They are a fifth column – potentially, a wooden horse in the city of Troy.

So, there will never be a single day in your life when you can afford to drop your guard, or leave your armour hanging up in the closet.

As I heard a Scottish preacher say years ago, ‘It’s a fight all the way, but fight on brother!’ By the grace of God we will.

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