Nehemiah 8:1–8 

1Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. 2So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. 3Then he read from it in the open square… before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law… 5And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up… 7… and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law… 8So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. 

The Word of God is our wisdom, our understanding, and our life. It is this Word that conveys to us the truth of God and that is used by the Spirit of God to enliven us spiritually. Hence, Scripture commends to us its public reading in the assembly of God’s people. When we gather as God’s people to worship the Lord, the public reading of Scripture should be prioritized. For example, Paul instructed Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (ESV, 1 Tim 4:13). And the Apostle John pronounced a blessing upon “he who reads and those who hear” the revelation that Christ gave him for the churches (Rev 1:3). And, in our text today, Ezra “read from the book of the law in the sight of all the people.” Public reading of Scripture reminds us of the centrality of God’s Word in our worship and in our lives.

So how ought we to approach this reading? Well notice a few things from our text. First, Ezra read the Scriptures in such a way that the word was “translated to give the sense.” Have you ever wondered why we don’t read the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek during our Sunday worship? Have you ever wondered why our Reformational fathers objected to the Roman Church’s practice of reading the Scriptures exclusively in Latin? Here in our text is your answer: when God’s law is read aloud, it is to be read in a manner which the people of God at large can understand. And so, we read the Scriptures in English translation not in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin.

Second, notice that when Ezra opened the book of the law, the people of Israel “stood up” (5). Standing communicates respect, attentiveness, eagerness, and determination. It is, after all, at the most intense moments of an athletic competition that the spectators stand on their feet, on their tiptoes, straining to see the action. And when we stand for the reading of the Word we are communicating that here is one of the most important moments in our service of worship. God is speaking to us – not through the frail mouth of the preacher, not through the symbolism of the sacrament, but through the living words of the text. 

Finally, we are told that “all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” It is not enough to hear the Word. In Jesus’ parable of the foolish man and the wise man each of whom built their houses on different foundations, the foolish man who built his house on sand is he who hears Jesus’ words but fails to practice them. The wise man, however, who builds his house on the rock, is he who hears Jesus’ words and obeys them. We are to listen to the Scriptures so we can obey them.

One of the dangers of regular traditions is that we begin to take them for granted and simply go through the motions. The Word of God is read and we chat with our neighbor or daydream about butterflies or nod off. So what about you? Why do you stand for the reading of God’s Word? Do you stand because you want to hear better? To learn more? Or do you just want to stretch or not stand out in the crowd? When the Word of God is read, are you attentive, straining your ears to hear and your heart to embrace the words of the living God? Or are you inattentive just doing one more meaningless thing in a meaningless service?

Reminded that we often fail to give heed to God’s Word as we ought, that we are often distracted from hearing and that, when we do hear, our heart often refuses to obey what we have heard, let us draw near to God and ask Him to cleanse us of our sins. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sins to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.