Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A State of National Repentance

Judah had faltered. Like the northern nation of Israel, characterized by years of wickedness and self-seeking leadership, the two southern tribes eventually gave way to idolatry and were also taken captive. As the Babylonian exile drew to a close and the Persian empire gained control, Cyrus began to allow the Jews to go back to their homeland. First it was Zerubbabel leading the charge, then Esther's courage to defend her people, followed by Ezra, who led another return as the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem. Finally came Nehemiah, the Persian King's cupbearer - an Israelite who shed tears for his people and his homeland.

But Nehemiah's sadness led to Israel's gladness. Not only was the Jerusalem wall reconstructed in less than two months (Neh. 6:15), but a national repentance and revival took place among the Hebrews. Paul wrote to the Corinthians to remind them that, "...godly sorrow leads to repentance unto salvation, not to be regretted..." (2 Cor. 7:10). The reforms of the days of Josiah had come to Judah because of his heartbreak, and the blessings from Nehemiah's tears are also a firm reminder that sometimes people, and even nations need to have a good cry. They need to look in the mirror and have a reality check. They need to not like what they see and make a change. Some of the greatest of spiritual awakenings can happen once hearts are broken.

In chapter 8 of Nehemiah, several inspirational events take place on a national level:

1. The people gather together as one man in the open square (8:1).
2. All of the people old enough to understand, both men and women, listen attentively to Ezra's public reading of God's law, which lasts all day (8:2-3).
3. When Ezra opens the book of the law in the sight of all the people, godly fear and reverence comes over the multitude and all the people stand up (8:5).
4. As Ezra pronounces blessings and honor to Jehovah, the people shout, "Amen." They then bow down with their faces to the ground and worship God (8:6).
5. While Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites teach the people the meaning of the law, the people begin to weep (8:9).
6. Nehemiah encourages to people not to cry, but rather to wipe their tears and rejoice, because God has made known unto them His law, and because, "The Lord your God is your strength" (8:10-11).
7. The people rejoice in festivities of thanksgiving, because they have been made to understand God's will for them (8:12).
8. The Israelites observe the feast of booths when they discover it in the reading. They keep the feast for seven days, the book of the law being read to them each day, and on the eighth day they hold a solemn assembly according to the commandment (8:18).

One cannot read the book of Nehemiah without being moved by the reaction of the people to God's word. This book is a humbling reminder that God's Israel, the church, ought to be in a state of national repentance whenever His word is publicly presented.

Wouldn't it be nice to think of our coming together in the assembly as a weekly practice of national repentance and rededication before God? Shouldn't we have the same respect and awe for the power of His word, the same tears for our failings, and the same joy for God's willingness to communicate and our ability to understand? Every time we come together, if our hearts are broken, great spiritual awakenings can take place.

This is what the unveiling of God's word and the response of Christian worship are all about.

"Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth." ~ Proverbs 7:24

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