Day 9      Nehemiah 7:73b-8:18 ... Mourning into Joy

Nehemiah alone was an impressive leader, but when paired with Ezra he was downright indomitable. The two made a perfect combination. Nehemiah, emboldened by good political connections, inspired others with his hands-on personality. He could trace his priestly lineage all the way back to Moses' brother Aaron, and he seemed singularly determined to restore integrity to that office.

On his arrival in Jerusalem some years before, Ezra had been shocked by the Jews' spiritual apathy. Rather than mounting a soapbox and scolding them for their failures, he tore his hair and beard, threw himself on the ground, and began a fast of repentance (see Ezra 9). His remarkable display of contrition so startled the Jewish settlers that they all agreed to repent and change their ways. Ezra had that kind of moral influence over people.

The action in this chapter takes place after Nehemiah has completed the arduous task of repairing the wall. The Jews, safe at last from their enemies, gather together in hopes of regaining some sense of national identity. As spiritual leader, Ezra is chosen to address the huge crowd. He stands on a newly built platform and begins to read from a document nearly 1000 years old, the scroll that contains the Israelites' original covenant with God.

As Ezra reads the ancient words, a sound begins to rise, spreading through the multitude. It is the sound of weeping. The Bible does not explain the reason for the tears. Were the people feeling guilt over their long history of breaking that covenant? Or nostalgia over the favored days when Israel had full independence? Whatever the reason, this was no time for tears. Nehemiah and Ezra sent out orders to prepare for a huge feast and celebration. God Wanted joy, not mourning. His chosen people were being rebuilt, just as surely as the stone walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt.

The central image of this chapter - a lone figure atop a wooden platform reading from a scroll - came to symbolize the Jewish race. They were becoming "people of the Book." The Jews had not regained the territory and splendor their nation once enjoyed under David and Solomon. The temple they had painstakingly constructed would eventually fall to looters, just like the one it replaced. But they would never forget the lesson of Ezra. He became the prototype for a new leader of the Jews: the scribe, a student of Scripture.

Point to Ponder: How important is the Bible in your own life?