At last, the walls of Jerusalem were complete. It was now a safe, secure place for the people to live. Governor Nehemiah had plans for guarding the gates and for moving the people into the almost empty city. He chose two men to be in charge of the city: his brother Hanani and another man named Hananiah. He chose Hananiah because this good man feared God more than most men do. Why was this important to Nehemiah? What does it mean to fear God? Deuteronomy 10:12 tells us that, of all the things God wants us to do, to fear Hi is first on the list, even above loving Him. Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and Prov. 1:7 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Proverbs 8:13 says that to fear the Lord is to hate evil. I think these verses are telling us that fearing the Lord means trying to always please Him in everything we do. If we do this, we can truly get to know Him as He is, and only then can we truly love Him. That’s why the fear of the Lord must come first: we might love God for selfish reasons, for what He can do for us or give to us. But if we really get to know Him, by truly trying to please Him, we can love Him because of Who He is.
The walls were finished in time for the festivals of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. This would have been the end of September and beginning of October on our calendar. The first day of that month was the Feast of Trumpets. The priest Ezra had come to Jerusalem to teach the Law to the people. Ezra would have been very old by this time, but he stood before the people on the Feast of Trumpets and read the Law to them. The people stood out of respect for the Law and listened from dawn until noon! They listened carefully to every word, and if someone did not understand a part of it, the Levites would explain it to him. The people grieved when they heard God’s Laws, because they realized how much of His precious Word they had forgotten. They wept and mourned, which showed that they not only understood and believed God’s Word, but they were applying it to their lives. Nehemiah reassured them: “Do not grieve. The joy of the Lord is your strength.” The people then went on to plan a wonderful celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, which came two weeks later. They had the biggest, most joyful celebration of this holiday since Joshua’s time. God’s Word made them grieve because of their sins, and then God’s Word gave them great joy because it showed them how to live.
Do you reverence God’s Word as His people should? How many of you have Bibles of your own? Do you know how incredibly lucky you are to be able to own a copy of God’s Word? In Nehemiah’s day, no one had a Bible of their own. Few people were even able to read at all, and books were so expensive and took so long to make, there were very few of them. That is why Ezra had to read the Law out loud to everyone. Perhaps this was the first time some of them had heard God’s Word! The priests were supposed to read it every seven years, but if you missed that reading you might not hear God’s Word for years.
Do you have to wait seven years to hear God’s Word? You can read it or listen to your Mom or Dad read it to you any time you want. Do you take advantage of this incredible blessing? Do you respect God’s Word by listening carefully and asking questions if you don’t understand? Do you apply His Words to your life, being sorry for your sins and feeling joy because of His many blessings to you?
There are about 440 million people in the world today who have no Bible. I have missionary friends whose only job is to get Bibles to people in their own language. How their eyes light up when they get a Bible of their very own in their language. They know what an incredible gift God’s Word is and they treasure it above all things. I am afraid that God’s Word is not valued as much here in America because almost everyone has one. We should treasure His precious Word as much as those who can’t have it. We should want to read it or listen to it every day, and hide it in our hearts.
It was not an accident that Ezra chose to read God’s Word by the Water Gate. Many times in the Bible, God’s Word is compared to water. Water quenches our thirst and makes us clean. God’s Word also quenches our thirst for knowledge of Him, and it makes us aware of sin so that we can be clean inside. Remember how it feels to be very thirsty and then to get a nice, cold glass of water? It makes you happy, doesn’t it? God’s Word should make you that happy. Next time you pick up your Bible, think about how blessed you are to have it!