Bridge, March 9, 2016

Past

“Everything Old is New Again”

Nehemiah 8:13-18

13 On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. 14 And they found it written in the Law that the Lord had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, 15 and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” 16 So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. 17 And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. 18 And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.

On the surface, this text presents us with a problem. In reference to the making of and living in booths during the feast, verse 17 declares that “from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so.” The problem arises from the fact that there are references to this practice within Scripture that occur during the time between Joshua and Nehemiah 8 (Judges 21:19 and 1 Samuel 1:3 (some debate still exists about these); 1 Kings 8:2, 65, though we are not certain if both verses reference the Feast of Booths, it is clear that it happened during the time spoken of in that chapter). Most notably, it is clearly referenced in Ezra 3:4 (“And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required…”). When we peel back the surface, though, and look more deeply at what is really being communicated we find that this is not a problem at all, but rather that it is representative of the greater events that were taking place during the chapter as a whole.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are not separated in the Jewish Bible. Though the authorship of the books in the forms found in Scripture is not certain, it is obvious that the author utilized the memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah then filled in the context of the story that they did not address in their own pens. For example, Nehemiah 1-7 utilizes the first-person point of view of Nehemiah, while chapters 8 through the first half of 12 occur in third-person. Likewise, first-person does not begin in Ezra until chapter 7. Why does this matter? It means the same person wrote the two passages in question (Ezra 3:4 and Nehemiah 8:17). The author who took such great care in organizing the material that comprises these books would not have made such a careless mistake of blatantly contradicting himself in such a glaring fashion. What, then, is being referenced if not the physical act of making and dwelling in literal booths during the Feast of Booths? The answers lay in the context of Nehemiah 8.

Not only were the people rediscovering the commands of the Law, they were rediscovering who God is and what it means to be His people through the understanding of the Law. As they looked beyond the surface they were able to see that the Law and all the practices it contained was meant to be a revelation of the character of God. The Feast of Trumpets (Neh. 8:9-12) reminded them of all the acts of salvation God had engaged in throughout the history of their people, showing them that He is gracious and long-suffering. Now the same thing was being done through the Feast of Booths. This was the first time since the days of Joshua that the people weren’t just going through the motions of the feasts and/or getting just a part of what was intended to be conveyed by the practice. They were peeling back the surface and seeing what was underneath, thereby gaining a better understanding of whom God is and what that meant for how they were to live.

  1. In God We Find Our Peace.

The physical act of dwelling in booths had been ignored, relegated to a token practice, or limited to part of the harvest celebrations since the days of Joshua. However, it was meant to remind the people of the days when their ancestors had also physically dwelt in tents during their wilderness wanderings. Though the people had no walls or army for protection, they had the protection of God and that was all that was required to keep them in peace and to provide for all their needs. This would have been especially significant as the temptation to rely on the newly rebuilt walls would have been fresh. We need not look to any limited tangible sources for our peace or hope. God is able to give us peace and provide for all our needs regardless of our circumstances.

  • What are some of the things that cause me to fear, despair, or worry?
  • How can the character of God alleviate these concerns?
  • How can I fill my mind with these characteristics of God? What can I do to regularly remind myself of who He is?
  1. In God We Find Our Purpose.

The process of rediscovering the purpose of the law and the practices it contained was critical. It reminded them that God had always been in control of the world and their specific destiny as a people. It also showed them that God didn’t call them to do anything that lacked a good reason. God is just as in control of the path of the world today as He was before and during the days of Nehemiah 8. He has a purpose for the world and for us, His people. He not only gives meaning to our lives in general, but also gives each action, thought, and word value and significance. As His representatives to the world, nothing we do is without purpose and every command is part of that purpose.

  • What are the main things God wants me to accomplish with my life?
  • How can I regularly remind myself of these over-arching purposes in order to give greater purpose to my daily decisions and behavior?

Present

  • Are there any unrelated struggles that you are facing this week? (At home, at work, etc.)
  • What does Scripture say about the issue?
  • How should God’s purpose for my life affect the way I handle the matter?

Future

Sunday’s Text:

Nehemiah 9:1-5

Supplemental Text:

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Discussion/Consideration:

  • What is the epitome of wisdom? What does that look like when lived out on a daily basis?

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