The Word Made Fresh
1Then all the people gathered in the open square before the Water Gate. They asked the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel. 2 On the first day of the seventh month Ezra brought the law before the gathering of men and women, all who could hear and understand. 3Facing the square before the Water Gate he read from it from early morning until midday in their presence, and the people listened attentively.
4Ezra stood on a wooden platform constructed for the occasion. On his right hand stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Masseiah. On his left stood Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-Baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. 5He was standing above the people, and when he opened the book in their sight all the people stood. 6Then Ezra praised the LORD God, and all the people answered “Amen, amen!” with hands uplifted. Then they bowed and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
7The Levites Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah helped the people understand. 8So, they read from the book of the law of God and interpreted it for the people so they would understand. 9The people wept when they heard the words of the law, and Nehemiah the governor and Ezra the priest and recorder and the Levites who taught the people said to them, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.”
10Then Nehemiah told them, “Go your way now. Eat the fat sacrifices and drink the sweet wine and send some of it to those who have nothing, for this day is sacred to the LORD. Don’t be sad. The LORD’s happiness is your strength.” 11Then the Levites calmed the people, “Don’t weep. This day is sacred, don’t be sad.” 12Then the people went their way to eat and drink and share and rejoice because they understood the words that had been read to them.
13The next day the family heads came together with the priests and Levites to study the law. 14They discovered written in the law which the LORD had passed on to them through Moses, that the people of Israel should live in shelters during the celebration of the seventh month, 15and that they should send the word out to all the towns and to all Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other trees to make shelters as it is written in the law.”
16The people did so and made shelters on the roofs of their houses and in the open spaces and in the courtyards of the temple of God, and in the town squares at the Water Gate and the Gate of Ephraim. 17All the people who had returned from captivity made shelters and lived in them, and that had not been done since the days of Joshua son of Nun. 18Each of the seven days of the celebration Nehemiah read from the book of law of God, and on the eighth day there was a solemn gathering according to the law.
1-8: Ezra the scribe makes his first appearance in the book of Nehemiah. Ezra has probably been in Jerusalem for some years now, although the chronology given in Ezra 7 is hard to match with that given in Nehemiah 1. The seventh month is the big festival month in the Jewish calendar, with the Festival of Trumpets, Yom Kippur, and Succoth all grouped closely together (see Leviticus 23). There is a huge gathering in Jerusalem on the first day of the month for the Festival of Trumpets. A large platform has been raised, and Ezra stands on it along with 13 other priests and 14 Levites. He and the other priests read from the law all morning long while the Levites interpret what they are reading to the people. The crowd, significantly, includes both men and women as well as children who are old enough to understand.
9-12: The people are stung by the words they hear and have to be comforted by Nehemiah and Ezra, who encourage them to share the sacrificial meat and wine with those who have nothing.
13-18: The next day the people gather and receive instructions about the observance of the Festival of Booths, or Succoth. The festival has apparently not been kept since the time of Joshua. They construct canopies all over the city and stay in them during the seven-day festival, gathering each day to hear Ezra read from the Torah. It is a great gathering of national education.
The people had to be re-taught what God wanted of them, having been exiled for seventy-plus years. We, too, must be regularly reminded of what God wants of us, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly before God. Sunday school and weekly worship are our versions of what is described here in chapter 8.