Text: 2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.
Teach: Ezra was most likely reading the Torah, which contains the five books of Moses. This would be the basics of Jewish religion and civil law. The focus was probably on Deuteronomy. Why would this be important? The people realized that God enabled them to complete an impossible task. What else does this God have to say, and say to me, to us? Ezra gave them a solid foundation to understand the relationship God wanted and wants to have with his people.
Take: The day the people came together would be the equivalent of our New Year’s Day. A day of celebration and fresh beginnings. Chances are you’re not reading this on New Year’s Day, but it can be a day of fresh beginnings. No matter what kind of Bible reading plan you may have abandoned in the past, you can begin fresh today. And that doesn’t just apply to Bible reading, but any and all spiritual habits and disciplines.
Task: Find an app or a site on the internet, there are plenty to choose from. Or just start reading. Proverbs has 31 chapters. Read the chapter that corresponds with the numeric day of the month. Start reading a gospel. Start reading and keep going. And if you are a regular reader: may you be blessed and your tribe increase!
Text: 18 Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.
Teach: Ezra read and the people listened. And they celebrated.
Take: Consistency. Repetition. The experts say it takes repeating a behavior for twenty-one days to create a habit. New habits are much easier to break than old ones. I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately, as I try to establish a healthier lifestyle. It’s much easier to be lazy and to eat poorly. But my physical body craves health and wholeness as much as my spirit craves the holiness.
Task: Are there healthy and holy habits you want to establish in your life. God desires those things for you, too. Jesus claims he came that we would have live and life abundant. Paul teaches that God is in the business of making all things new. Let’s pray for a greater spirit of obedience and consistency.
Text: 17 The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.
Teach: The people heard the teaching about the Feast of Tabernacles and their response was immediate. They built their booths and dwelt in them. And the result of their obedience was great joy.
Take: Wiersbe notes the Feast of Tabernacles had three purposes: to look back and remember the wilderness journey; to look around at the blessings that come from the harvest at hand; and to look ahead to the glorious coming kingdom (Be Determined, p. 103). God’s instruction and command is for us to take stock, be aware, and get ready.
Task: The joy of our relationship with God is rooted in obedience. Lacking joy? Check your OQ, obedience quotient.
Text: 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Teach: The people heard the Word, the Law specifically. The job of the Law is to convict, and by convicting to bring confession and repentance. Too often, however, when the Holy Spirit brings conviction and people feel remorse and regret, they get stuck and never move on. Ezra, Nehemiah, and the other leaders realized this and encouraged the people to move beyond regret to celebration.
Take: One of the enemy’s most cunning deceptions is to move in at the moment of conviction and attempt to deceive the penitent person into believing that whatever their sin is, it is far too great to be forgiven. As a result, there is much sadness. The Word is very clear on this: If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong (1 John 1:9, NLT).
Task: Does the enemy seek to steel your joy? Does he cause you to dwell in regret? David understood that and asked God to restore the joy of his salvation (see Psalm 51). I had a pastor who often told the congregation, “God has sent your sin into the sea of forgetfulness and posted a no fishing sign.” God wants you to move on into joy.
Text: 5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
Teach: They heard the Word and they stood. It was an honor to hear the Word. Their response of ‘Amen!’ was their declaration of agreement. They were saying, “Make it so. We want this!” And then they prostrated themselves in fear, reverence, and humility.
Take: My early church memories took place in a mainline church, characterized by order and decorum. During confirmation class we visited other churches to observe their styles of worship. The differences in worship styles surprised me. The people seemed more engaged and demonstrative. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the people I went to church with, but there was a hunger and desire to reach God in those other services that spoke to my heart, even at that young age.
Task: Jesus told his disciples they would be blessed if they hungered and thirsted for God. Do you just nibble at God, taking in bits and pieces, here and there? Or do you crave more? Take time to check your SQ, your satisfaction quotient.
Text: 3 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.
Teach: Did you catch that? Ezra read and the people listened from daybreak to noon, and they did so attentively. These people were motivated and hungry to know God and what he wanted from them. Three hours for worship. That is still the practice in many places around the world. As I researched length of services, I found several articles suggesting that American services are too short and there is a push to lengthen them.
Take: We can spend two or three hours at a sporting event or even a movie and pay a high price to do so. But an hour for worship is thought by some to be asking too much. We spend how much time a day on our phones or in front of TV, but have no time for personal quiet time with God. (Obviously you’re an exception since you’re reading this.) I remember how I finally got myself into a devotional habit. I put my devotional on the back of the toilet. I knew I’d be there a couple times a day. It worked. Thankfully, I’ve been able to develop that time over the years and come out of the water closet.
Task: Do you tithe your time? Is God worth more than a daily nod his direction? Do you think God wants more from you? Can you, will you give him the time he deserves…and you need?
Text: 1 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.
Teach: In chapter seven of Nehemiah, we saw the transition from everyone’s focus on the building of the wall to the building of people. The people credited God for the miracle of building the wall in fifty-two days. They wanted to know more about this God.
Take: I love to hear missionaries speak of the determination of the people where they minister. The miles they walk. The risks they take. The things they sacrifice. All because they want to gather with other believers and hear the Word.
Task: What sacrifices have you made to be with God’s people to hear the Word? What excuses do you use to keep from spending time in the Word? Tough questions today, I know. Trust me, I’ve been taking my own inventory, too.
Text: 7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:7-8, NIV)
Teach: The major lesson of this chapter has been: people are important to God. Not just groups of people, but individuals. I think of the encounter Jesus had with the woman at the well. John makes the point in his account that Jesus had to go that way. Not because the map said so, but because he had an appointment to keep.
Take: We are not in this journey alone. God fixed that in the beginning. Eve was created because it was not good for man to be alone. We were created to be in relationship with and for each other. We may not always get along, but we really do need each other.
Task: Ponder this quote by James Robison: God created us in His image. We were made for relationship, fellowship, stewardship and productive fruitfulness. The first relationship which profoundly affects all other relationships begins with our commitment to faith in and fellowship with Father God. It is on this meaningful relationship all others are to be built. We are to love God first and foremost and love our neighbors with the same legitimate concern we have for our own well-being.
Text: 73 The priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the musicians and the temple servants, along with certain of the people and the rest of the Israelites, settled in their own towns.
Teach: Home. Safety. Normalcy. These are things we crave. The people had worked hard and now they were going to reap some of the fruits of their labor. But this was about so much more than building a wall. Consider the things the people learned during the process: the value of hard work, the treasure of friends and family, the love and provision of God, the importance of prayerful leadership.
Take: Dorothy declares in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.” Before she journey’s back she’s asked what she learned and she replies, “Well, I—I think that it, that it wasn’t enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em — and it’s that — if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?”
Task: What blessings do you find in your home, with your family? Take some time today to count those blessings and thank God for them. And if your home doesn’t automatically bring you joy, what provisions and people has God placed there for you?
Text: Nehemiah 7:4-69 or Ezra 2:1-64
Teach: Oh, no. Another list. Why? What is so important about who was there? God loved them, each and every one. Wiersbe likens this list to the list of names in Hebrews 11. These are the people who made things happen.
Take: Not long ago one of my cousins posted some picks and historical/genealogical facts about our grandfather’s family. It was fascinating. I remembered when I was in grade school and I saw my grandmother’s family tree. It went back all the way to William Bradford who came over on the Mayflower. The entertainment industry has got the genealogy fever and now we can watch celebrities uncover their pasts. We seem to crave connection and the anchor it provides.
Task: Not everything we uncover in our pasts is something to brag about. Consider Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. But the truth is, God can even use those “unsavory” characters in his plan for us. And if that’s truth, imagine what he can do with us!