Israel had sinned. They had disobeyed God’s Word repeatedly and, as a result, endured a promised exile. God had warned both Israel and Judah that punishment awaited them if they continued to disobey, and He was faithful to his Word. Beginning with Israel in 722 BC, God started a process of discipline. He gave both Israel and Judah over to defeat and exile: Israel was taken by Assyria and Judah by Babylon. After several hundred years in exile, God finally brought them back to their land.
The land, however, was only a shadow of its former glory. There was no temple and there were no walls around Jerusalem. In His goodness, however, God raised up two men to lead the rebuilding of the temple and the rebuilding of the walls. Ezra and Nehemiah were God’s chosen men to lead the renovation of Israel. Ezra lead the building of the temple, while Nehemiah led the construction of the walls.
After both were completed, all the people were gathered together. Nehemiah 8:1 reads, “And all the people gathered as one mand into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel.” Then Ezra read the Law to men, women and “all who could understand what they heard” (v.2). And they listened. Ezra would read, and the people would say, “Amen, Amen,” while lifting up their hands and bowing their heads in worship.
What was Ezra and the others doing to illicit such a response from these people who had recently returned from exile? Verse 7-8 explains, “Also Jeshua, Beni, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people usnderstand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading (emphasis mine).” Ezra, with the help of some faithful men, were helping the people understand the Law.
What was the result of their understanding of the Law? Verse 12 gives us the culmination, “And all the people went their way to eat and drink and send portations and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.” The result of their understanding was ‘great rejoicing.’ Israel rejoiced because they understood God’s Word. God’s Word brought them joy and comfort.
So it will be today. It is when we understand God’s Word to us that we will find joy. It is when we truly grasp the Scriptures that our hearts will find genuine spiritual happiness and peace. Why should we devote ourselves to understanding, teaching and preaching the Word of God? Because it is here that we ourselves will find true joy and will bring lasting joy to others. Why should we often seek to hear the Word taught, to regularly read our Bibles, to read good books about the Bible and talk about the Scriptures with our friends? Because it is here, as we understand what God has said to us, that we will find ‘great rejoicing.’