Study Notes

Nehemiah 7:1-8:8


We've got a lot to cover in Nehemiah tonight, so I won't spend any time reviewing, other than to say that the wall is finished, the gates are in place, and the doors are hung!

7:1-2 Faithful And Fearful

Nehemiah, as the governor of Judah, needed leadership on a local level. He appointed Khan-aw-NEE and Khan-an-YAW to be in charge. (Both of their names are derived from "khaw-NAN," the Hebrew word for grace.) Although Nehemiah doesn't mention his brother's qualifications, he does say why Khan-an-YAW was chosen: he was faithful and feared God.

For leadership to be godly, these two things must go hand in hand. Anyone who would be in a position of authority as a decision-maker must be both fearing and faithful.

When Yeh-ho-shaw-FAWT had appointed leaders to judge disputes,

2Chr. 19:9-10 Then he charged them saying, "Thus you shall do in the fear of the LORD, faithfully and wholeheartedly. And whenever any dispute comes to you from your brethren who live in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and ordinances, you shall warn them that they may not be guilty before the LORD, and wrath may {not} come on you and your brethren..."

7:3 Rules For The Gates And Guards

Nehemiah instructed "the grace brothers" how to carefully use their new defenses. The gates were not to be opened too early in the day, and the doors should be shut and bolted while guards were present. Attacks from the enemy would undoubtedly be sneaky, with an early-morning assault before all the people were awake and alert, or they would sneak in at night, just as the doors were closing. Either way, Nehemiah wanted them to give their enemy no opportunity.

7:4 Big City, Few People

Although in Jerusalem's history, it had been a major population center, since the return from the Babylonian captivity, there just weren't enough people living there. After all, who would have wanted to live in the city whose walls were demolished? For now, it was a big place with just a few people, but this problem will be addressed in chapter eleven.

7:5 Enrolling By Genealogies

God put it into Nehemiah's heart to enroll the people by their genealogies. As Americans, it is hard for us to imagine the importance that the Hebrew culture placed on genealogy. But the family tree was to them just as important as the immediate family. Their identities were linked to the tribes they had come from, and going even further back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Those from the tribe of Judah knew that their next son might be the Messiah. Those that were linked by genealogy to their father Abraham knew that the promises given to him and his seed applied to them as well.

Nehemiah found the book documenting the returning Jews that had been started about a hundred years before, as we read in Ezra two. If you take the time to cross-reference them, you will see that the book had been kept somewhat current, as changes were made when families grew or shrank.

(7:6-60) Those Who Came First

The next 54 verses detail the Jews that returned to the land of Judah from the Babylonian Captivity. Although we won't be reading them, the information provided is valuable reference for Bible studies.

(7:61-65) Missing Genealogies

Some of those assembled could not show their genealogy. They couldn't prove that they were really Jews. Even some of those serving as priests couldn't prove their ancestry, and had to actually be removed from the priesthood.

The Lord had very strict regulations regarding who served as priests in His temple. Those who were disqualified due to defects, however, were still allowed to eat the food set aside for the priests (Lev. 21:17-23). But being unable to prove their genealogical right to the priesthood,

Neh. 7:65 ...the governor said to them that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest arose with Urim and Thummim.

Urim And Thummim

Oo-REEM and Toom-MEEM means "lights" and "perfections" or "reflections." They were kept in the breastpiece of the High Priest, and used for determining God's judgment or inquire about God's will. Although we don't know the logistics of how this worked, or what the Oo-REEM and Toom-MEEM actually were, we do know that God ordained and even commanded their usage.

Exod. 28:29-30 "And Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment over his heart when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually. And you shall put in the breastpiece of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron's heart when he goes in before the LORD; and Aaron shall carry the judgment of the sons of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually.

Until God made His will known about this issue, they could not take a chance on the sanctuary being defiled by someone who was not truly a priest of God.

(7:66-72) More Numbers

These verses detail the total number of the people, along with servants, animals, money put into the temple treasury, etc.

7:73 Everyone In Their Cities

Again, the problem with Jerusalem was its underpopulation. Even those who were serving in the temple lived elsewhere.

8:1 Asking For The Word

Because of my intense love for the Word of God, this is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Nearly every verse lends itself to a sermon on the importance of the Word, the desire for the Word, teaching of the Word, and the application of the Word.

Here, as the chapter begins, the people all gather together in front of the Water Gate and ask Ezra to bring out the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. This verse is a central theme around which I formulated my philosophy of doing ministry. If people know where they can get the Word, they will come and ask for it. You don't need to beg them to come and listen. You don't need to have a circus to trick them into hearing it. They will ask you for it themselves.

There are churches that have carnivals and parties and programs to bring people in the door. But the problem with that is that if people came for the carnival, party, or program, then you'll need to keep having carnivals, parties, and programs to keep them. But if they came asking for the Word, then you just need to keep teaching and preaching the Word.

I think that it is also telling that they gathered at the Water Gate. Scripturally-speaking, water is a picture of the Word of God. The people thirsted for the water of the Word. Before coming to Cheyenne, a prophecy was spoken about our coming here.

It was directly from Isaiah 41, saying,

Isa. 41:17-20 "The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the LORD, will answer them Myself, as the God of Israel I will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, the acacia, and the myrtle, and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert, together with the box tree and the cypress, that they may see and recognize, and consider and gain insight as well, that the hand of the LORD has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it.

I knew that this was why God was bringing us here - to bring the water of the Word to a dry and parched place. Now, looking back, I can see every word of this being fulfilled. Many of you here tonight are the trees that have grown - without the water of the Word, you would not be spiritually alive. But now you are growing and thriving because of the water that has been brought to this dry area. And it has not been me that did this - it has been the Lord working through the Word! God is so good!

8:2 All Who Could Listen With Understanding

Ezra brought out the Word of God to read it. Notice that it wasn't just the men and women, but all who could listen with understanding.

People have asked me, "Why do you allow elementary school age children in the sanctuary?" My response is that if they can listen with understanding, then they are welcome. There have been a couple dozen children over the last sevens years who've told me that they enjoy the teaching in the sanctuary more than the teaching in the Sunday School. I say, "Praise God! You are welcome here!"

Conversely, people have asked me, "Why don't you like babies and small children to be in the sanctuary? Are you anti-family?" My response is that they simply don't have understanding. At best, they have no idea what is being taught, and at worst, can serve as a distraction to those who do have understanding. That's why we have a nursery, a cry room, and an overflow room. That's why the majority of our elementary school age kids choose the Sunday School - it's at their level of understanding, and that's how they're going to learn about the Lord.

8:3 From Morning Until Midday

Ezra read from the Word from early morning until midday. That's about five or six hours! And the people were attentive the whole time! I know that the majority of American churchgoers would squawk at the idea of a sermon lasting longer than twenty minutes. At Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, I used to listen to Pastor Chuck teach for 90 minutes on Sunday nights. I can listen to five or six hours of Bible study tapes without exhaustion.

In Acts 20, Paul preached from suppertime until midnight.

Acts 20:9 And there was a certain young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor, and was picked up dead.

Not one to stop a sermon for death, Paul raised him from the dead, and kept teaching them until daybreak!

If I can do nothing else in this world, I want to instill a love for the Word of God in as many people as possible before I die. When you love the Word, you are attentive to the Word - even when we're going long.

(8:4) A Wooden Podium

This verse describes the setting around which the Word was being read. It says that Ezra...

Neh. 8:4 ...stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose...

The King James says,

Neh. 8:4 (KJV) ...stood upon a pulpit of wood...

These translations have given rise to the idea of a pulpit being the "right" way to preach. Now, there's nothing wrong with using a pulpit to teach. However, as beneficial as it is to have something to hold your Bible and notes, it is often perceived as an obstacle, a separation. Some ministers admit to using it as a shield or barrier, something that they are psychologically hiding behind. Recently, I have been using this church's pulpit on Sundays. But I have found that I tend to be preaching more and teaching less when I use it. It is more of an "I'm telling you," feeling rather than a "We're learning this together" feeling. So, I'm leaving it alone for this season, and returning to the stool.

And incidentally, what Ezra was using was not a pulpit - it was a platform. Every once in awhile the NIV will hit a translation right on the head, and get it better than any other translation. Such is the case here, for it says,

Neh. 8:4 (NIV) Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion...

8:5 The People Stood Up

The people all stood as Ezra stood and read the Word. Can you imagine having to stand for the entire message? Especially when it lasts for six hours! This is not something to be dogmatic and legalistic about. In ancient times, Jews in the synagogues stood while teachers sat!

In Luke 4, it says that Jesus stood to read the scroll of Isaiah, and then sat down to teach. The people must have been sitting as well, for when the listeners were filled with rage at his teaching, it says that...

Luke 4:29 ...they rose up and cast Him out of the city...

So, it would seem that the position of the teacher and listeners is a cultural thing, rather than a biblical mandate. However, there are body positions given as examples for us to follow, including this very next verse...

8:6 Blessing The Lord

Ezra blessed the Lord. What does it mean to bless? It means to make someone happy, to give them a gift, to benefit them. God blesses us with wonderful blessings. God wants us to be a blessing to others. But just as we ask for God to bless us, we must be willing to bless God. Lately, the term "God Bless America" has come back into vogue. And while that is a true prayer, we must also be careful to say, "America, Bless God." Ezra blessed the Lord.


When Ezra blessed the Lord, all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" Now, that might sound odd if you were raised to think that "Amen" is short for, "Thanks for listening to my prayer God. It's over now."

No, in reality, the word "Amen," means "truly truthful, absolutely right, firmly affirmative." When Jesus said, "Verily verily I say unto thee," He was literally saying, "Amen, amen, I say unto thee." When it comes at the beginning of a statement, it means, "What I'm about to say is absolutely as true as true can be!" When it comes at the end of a statement, it means, "I agree wholeheartedly with what has been spoken!"

It is absolutely biblical to agree with something that is being taught by saying, "Amen."

Lifting Up Their Hands

Combined with their saying, "Amen," they also lifted up their hands. There are some folks in the church who lift their hands during the teaching. They don't distract anyone, and it blesses me to no end. I know that they're hearing the truth of the Word and saying, "Lord, I want that in my life! Father, thank you for that blessing! God, pour that out on me! Jesus, I submit to you fully in this!" What a great proclamation of devotion to the Lord!

Bowing Low

They said "Amen," and they lifted their hands. But then they bowed low. They prostrated themselves, laying down on their faces in worship, as a sign of God's complete superiority.

8:7-8 Explaining And Translating

Neh. 8:7-8 Also Yay-SHOO-ah, Baw-NEE, Shay-rayb-YAW, Yaw-MEEN, Ak-KOOB, Shab-beth-AH-ee, Ho-dee-YAW, Mah-as-ay-YAW, Kel-ee-TAW, Az-ar-YAW, Yo-zaw-BAWD, Khaw-NAWN, Pel-aw-YAW, and the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people {remained} in their place. And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.

You can see why I often skip the reading large sections of Scripture aloud!

Here we see that these guys read the Word, then translated and explained it to give the sense so that the people would have understanding.

This is exactly what I have pursued in the teaching ministry. Let's face it - some things in the Word of God are very hard to understand. Even those that can listen with understanding are often confused by deep subjects covered in the Word. As a teacher, I take on the task of studying intensely the super-difficult concepts, and then do my best to simplify them down to make them understandable. My goal is to teach it so understandably that if you go back and read the Scriptures we've covered, you will fully comprehend even the most difficult passages.

Well, with that in mind, we must delay the teaching of the rest of the chapter until next week. Not that I'm afraid you wouldn't sit for another hour, but our tapes run out after 62 minutes! Next time, we'll look at their reaction to the teaching of the Word, as well as their celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.

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