If you’ve ever lost something precious only to find it once again, you know the feeling of joy that can overcome you at its rediscovery. Every time I return back to the home I left in the San Francisco Bay area, I find myself both laughing and crying—and both seem fit emotions for those moments.
This is especially true if I go to a ballgame at AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants. There is euphoria at the smell of the ballpark-favorite garlic fries. There are tears at hearing a crowd of 40,000 sing Journey’s “Lights” in the eighth inning. There is elation at Buster Posey knocking a game-winning home run. All of these sights, smells, and sounds are precious to me, and yet I get to experience them far too infrequently these days.
I imagine the people of Israel were met with many conflicting emotions as they made their way home to Jerusalem. They had returned to rebuild the walls of their city and the temple within those walls, but there was something else that needed to be rebuilt: their spiritual life. In order for God’s people to reestablish their identity of faith, they needed to be reminded of the central truth of what made them unique among all nations.
It wasn’t a temple (other nations had those). It wasn’t a powerful city (Babylon could have sufficed). It wasn’t even a strong leader (Alexander the Great was coming). What made Israel unique among all the nations was that God had spoken directly to them and given them His Word. For too long that Word had been neglected, but on this day, Israel reestablished among themselves the chief importance of God’s Word for all of life.
However, hearing the book of the law read to them was not met without conflicting emotion. “For all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law” (Nehemiah 8:9). But convicted as they were, that day was not one for mourning and weeping; it was a holy day to the Lord. It was a day of returning to the city, yes, but it was also a day of God’s people turning their hearts back toward Him in repentance. And so Ezra and Nehemiah instructed them: “Do not grieve, because the joy of the LORD is your strength” (v.10).
In everything that occurs in Nehemiah 8, we are forced to think about the place of God’s Word within our own lives. Too often we neglect, forget, or flat-out ignore the fact that God Himself has spoken to us and for us. Instead of listening to the Word preached, examining the Word in community, and applying the Word personally, we make the Bible less than a priority in our lives. Because of that, we often find our lives in ruins and wreckage, when in reality, we have God’s inspired Word to lead us in every day and in all ways (2 Timothy 3:16).
Perhaps we need to rediscover God’s Word in a fresh way. Ezra’s preaching, as well as Israel’s commitment to once again read, listen, and understand Scripture, allowed for spiritual renewal among them. When we turn to Scripture we will find that same renewal is waiting for us as well.
Written by Jeremy Writebol