Sabbath School Lesson for November 2-8, 2019
Chapters 8 through 10 of Nehemiah describes how the Israelites, shortly after the work on Jerusalem’s wall was completed, assembled themselves together to read and hear from the word of God. This experience tells us about the thrill and importance of knowing God’s law and the history of His people through private and corporate Bible study.
- All the people gathered in unity, asking that God’s word be read to them. (Sunday)
- There was a desire to hear and learn about God. (Monday)
- Both hearing and understanding God’s law was important to His people. (Tuesday)
- God tells them to rejoice after their repentance. (Wednesday)
- Staying in “booths” helped reinforce the stories they had heard about their journey in the wilderness. (Thursday)
Nehemiah 8-10 are chapters that stand out in several ways. Curiously, the narrative shifts from a firsthand account, written in the first-person (“I did this, I did that”), to a third-person perspective (“they did this, they did that”). This middle portion of Nehemiah recounts the reading of the law, their confession, and their re-dedication to keeping the covenant, as a united people.
Chapter 9 may also be considered the key chapter. It focuses on the covenant, with the completion of the wall an affirmation of their faithfulness to God’s covenant. The history of God’s people may be divided into times when the people obeyed God and were blessed, and when they disobeyed and suffered disastrous consequences. Chapter 9 gives us a good summary of these times, in addition to their important confession of their past transgressions of the law.
Chapter 8, our main study this week, provides us with the background for how they decided to renew this covenant with God.
Memory Text: “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.” Nehemiah 8:8 NKJV
Reading and studying God’s holy Bible is key to getting to know Him. It provides vital information about who God is and how He works through His people for the benefit, not just of mankind, but the whole universe.
As we can see in this story, personal and group study of the Word are both beneficial for this purpose.
Sunday: The People Gather
Just in time for the Feast of Trumpets, the wall was completed, allowing God’s people to gather for the reading of the law, which had been prescribed by Moses to occur every seven years. See Deuteronomy 31:9-13.
The group consisted of men and women, young and old, even foreigners who were within the gates. No one of understanding age was left out of hearing and knowing what God expected of them. It says in Nehemiah 8:1 that they gathered “as one man in the open square”, emphasizing the united front they represented.
Considered the most important month of the Hebrew calendar, the month of Tishri, during the Feast of Trumpets, they were to congregate for this special assembly. A raised platform was built to accommodate the speakers. With rapt attention, they heard various persons read and preach from the books of Moses, known as the Torah (in Hebrew) or the Pentateuch (in Greek).
The study of God’s word is to be the study of a lifetime. Which is why it was God’s desire for them to immerse themselves so fully in it every seven years. That would only occur if the people would keep themselves engaged in Bible study wholeheartedly in between the set times for the big assemblies. Private study and group discussions are both designed to keep us in God’s word and living in a manner that pleases God.
Read Deuteronomy 31:9-11. Why do you think this reading was to occur every seven years and at that particular Feast of the Trumpets, which was followed by the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles in the same month?
Read Deuteronomy 31:12-13. Why was it important to have everyone present for the reading?
Read Nehemiah 7:73-8:2 and Acts 1:14. Why was unity (especially mentioned was unity of the sexes) thought to be a vital feature of this assembly, and how did prayer encourage that unity?
Monday: Reading and Hearing the Law
Ezra’s previous years of instructing and encouraging the people to read and keep God’s Law was evident in the people’s desire to hear the Scriptures at this massive gathering. A thirst for God’s word had been established by the faithful teaching of God’s appointed priests and prophets during the physical reconstruction of the city.
There was reverence in the solemn atmosphere that permeated the crowd. Nehemiah 8:3 tells us the people were attentive for hours, as the Torah was read and expounded upon by various speakers. They embraced the messages enthusiastically and wholeheartedly, with a yearning to know all they could about the God they worshiped.
Just as private Bible study is needed for our personal, spiritual growth, so also is corporate study an appropriate avenue to help us understand and learn more about God. Either in small or large group settings, group study seems to be necessary for a full appreciation what the Bible has to offer. It also provides the opportunity to keep us accountable to each other and God through our interactions with each other.
Read Nehemiah 8:3, Deuteronomy :1, 6:3, 4. Why was this corporate reading of the Law helpful at different times in Hebrew history? What were they to learn about God that would be different from their neighbors?
Read Joshua 1:9 and Psalm 1:2. How does God’s word, especially His law that it contains, give us courage and strength? What does it mean to meditate on it day and night?
Read Ezekiel 37:4-6. What is the purpose of hearing prophecy?
Tuesday: Reading and Interpreting the Word
Several times, chapter 8 mentions that they were to understand God’s Law. Evidently, it wasn’t enough to hear and know what God expected of them. It was important for them to understand, as far as possible, the meaning of the requirements of the Law.
Understanding ensures full acceptance and compliance by bringing our hearts closer to God. We must embrace His teachings, not just be aware of them.
For the Jews of Nehemiah’s day this meant organizing a public reading and hearing that would bring the most out of the Scriptures for every adult and child within the city. Two groups of thirteen men were chosen to present the messages.
Not only was there a reading of the Torah, but the men were to relay the interpretation and/or translation of the passages as well. This kind of preaching would hopefully allow the people to personally repent and to newly dedicate themselves to living out God’s covenant.
No matter how devoted we are to our personal study of God’s word, we miss out on many of the blessings possible by not convening with other Christians and sharing with each other the meaning of the teachings in the Bible.
How appropriate it is then for adults and children to come together whenever possible, either on Sabbath or the middle of the week, and attempt to understand God’s word in a group setting.
Read Nehemiah 8:5, 6, Psalm 28:2. What indicates that the people were excited and reverent about hearing the preaching of God’s word? Why were their hands uplifted up? What might be appropriate or inappropriate expressions of worship, and how might they be culturally driven?
Read Nehemiah 8:8. Why is it important to understand God’s Law and how it is to be kept?
Read Acts 8:30, 31. Why is it usually necessary for some guidance when we are studying the Bible? Why does God desire our corporate study of His word?
Wednesday: The People’s Response
Ezra’s first words were not of condemnation for the wrongs of the people. He opens his remarks with words of praise to God. “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God” (Nehemiah 8:6), bringing a resounding “Amen” from his listeners, while lifting up their hands to heaven.
As the Law of God was later revealed, the people were visibly shaken and mournful over their many crimes against God. Verse 9 says, “all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.” Their leaders had to remind them that their time for sorrow was over. On that holy day, they were to be thankful for the wonderful God they served and rejoice that they were forgiven.
This narrative shows us the wisdom of uplifting God when we witness to others; because in doing so, they may come to see their own sinfulness, in contrast to God’s loving character. Most often, it is better than simply pointing out their faults.
In addition, we need personally to keep our focus on the goodness of God. When we look instead at ourselves or others, we are in danger of overlooking our own inadequacies. Or, we may be overcome with depressive, unproductive thoughts about our own unworthiness.
Read Nehemiah 8:5, 6 and Psalm 28:2. What do the various actions of the people mean in these verses?
Read Nehemiah 8:7:8, 9. Why would hearing the Law bring such sorrow to the people? When should our sorrow for wrongdoing end, and why do we sometimes hold on to it too long?
Read Nehemiah 8:10-12. Why does gift-giving give us such joy, and what made it appropriate for the Jews during these celebrations? For what reasons were they rejoicing?
Thursday: The Joy of the Lord
Staying in “booths”, as was done during the Feast of Tabernacles, must have been similar to camping that so many families still enjoy today. [The word for tabernacle means a temporary structure or tent.] Many recall the thrill of the yearly church camp meeting, that involved staying in tents and attending religious services throughout the day and night.
Being so close to nature no doubt contributes to the feelings of joy that accompany such camping adventures. It reminds us of the joy of the Lord when He created this beautiful world of nature as a gift for mankind. Each day our heavenly Father rejoiced at the things He had made.
And it is this same joy that gives us strength, no matter what trials we may be going through. It is this same joy that thrills our heart when we make something beautiful with our own hands, and when we generously give gifts to our loved ones.
The feasts and ceremonies that God set up for His people were reminders of all that He had done for them. We should strive to do all we can to ensure the same kind of joy and happiness that come from being God’s people today. These joyful activities, no matter what form they take, will be our greatest source of strength when times get almost too hard to bear.
Read Nehemiah 8:13-15 and Leviticus 23:34, 40. Why do we often feel closer to God when we are in temporary shelters, such as a tent? What feelings about God was this practice meant to encourage? What about evacuation centers or refuge camps for people fleeing from wars and disasters? How can they make us feel closer to God?
Read Nehemiah 8:17. Why was there joy about keeping this Feast of Tabernacles after so long of being without it? Why do you think they had abandoned the practice in the first place?
Read Nehemiah 8:18 and Deuteronomy 31:11. How was it possible for them to rejoice while listening to the Law? Why does it matter how our hearts receive the message? How can we be more excited about hearing the preaching of the word of God, no matter how it is delivered to us at church?
It’s helpful to see a breakdown of the books of Nehemiah and Ezra this way…
- focus on the building projects (Nehemiah 1-6 and Ezra 1-6)
- focus on building God’s people (Nehemiah 7-13 and Ezra 7-10)
Clearly, both accomplishments were needed for God’s mission to go forward. Similarly, we need to pay attention to our outward performance and behavior, in addition to maintaining an inward balance of love in our hearts by personally getting to know God through His word.
Corporate worship, including study of the Scriptures, was always God’s chosen way to achieve His goals, and preserve the covenant He had with His people. We must not neglect, even today, the blessings that come from group Bible study. An understanding of His word is more likely to occur when fellow Christians share their insights and knowledge on a regular basis.
A demonstration of the need for enlightenment when it comes to Bible study was given in the story of Phillip and the eunuch (Acts 8:26-38). The eunuch recognized his lack of understanding and did not hesitate to profit from Phillip’s explanation of the meaning of the text he was reading in Isaiah.
We should keep humble enough to learn from each other as well. It decreases the likelihood of developing false teachings and inspires us to continue learning all we can from God’s word.
[Check out my new article about methods of Bible study! https://outlookmag.org/ways-to-study-the-bible/]
Next Week’s Lesson: Our Forgiving God
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
Other Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/