Today’s reading is Nehemiah 6-10, Psalm 142, and Revelation 17-18.
I grew up in the Evangelical church. I also grew up in a family which not only valued education, but kept learning at the forefront of our family experiences. These two created a combination of having a strong knowledge of Bible stories and content at a young age.
It confused me, as I got older, when I saw others who had somewhat similar experiences to me who did not have the same strong knowledge of Bible stories. What I had to come to realize was that some families and churches pushed more of the Christian “feeling” and morality than knowledge of the Biblical story.
While morality has it’s place, knowing the story of God is what grounds us in the Biblical story and connects us to the greater story of God and the redemption of the world.
As I spend more time in the Biblical story, I see that this concept of not knowing the Biblical story is actually very common and not just a “modern” problem. After the Israelites spent seventy years in Babylon during their exile, they return home to Jerusalem. They do the good, religious thing of rebuilding the altar and temple and recommitting themselves to the sacrifices and festivals. Then they do the practical thing of rebuilding their homes and the walls, replanting their fields and vineyards. Then finally, they relearn their story.
The Bible is full of thousands of stories. But the Bible is also one story. It is the story of God’s creation and plan of redemption. It is God’s story of bringing the world to Himself. And God loves this story.
Time and time again, God tells the people to remember what He did for them, to remember where He brought them, and to remember the covenant He gave to them. In order to remember, they have to tell the story to the next generation so that they can remember and tell it to the generation after them. The problem was they were bad at telling it so they became bad at remembering it.
Now that Jerusalem and the surrounding areas were beginning to be built back up and were not in complete ruins, they needed to be told their story and learn why they had gone into exile so as to not repeat their mistakes.
Ezra brings the book of the Law before the people and “He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law” (Nehemiah 8:3). As the people listened to Ezra read the Law, the Levites instructed the people in the Law, “making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” (Nehemiah 8:8). They didn’t just read the Law, they explained and instructed on the Law. It is not nearly enough to just read the Bible, we need to understand what we are reading.
For me, growing up in the environment I did, it was about learning and understanding. I was able to retell the stories of David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, and Jesus Walking on Water, not just because I had heard them so many times, but it was because I understood them as well.
The last part of this story is that once they understood the Law, they rejoiced. At first they wept. We are not told why they wept, but it seems as though they are weeping because they had sinned and because by not knowing the story, they had missed out on so much blessing. But then they are told to not weep. They are told the day was holy to the Lord (Nehemiah 8:9) and instead they needed to celebrate: “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
When you read Scripture, when you understand Scripture, do you just think “Well that’s nice” and put your Bible down? or do you celebrate, rejoice and eat choice food and sweet drinks because you have engaged with the word of the Lord?
As we read the Bible again and again, we will encounter the stories therein in new ways. We will see individual sin ways we never had before. We will experience Israel’s sins in new ways. And we will be forgiven anew. The Bible is not a book to be read once and put down for the rest of time. It is to be continually read so that we can continually understand the words that are made known to us.
Each time you understand these words, each time you come across the story of God, rejoice. Celebrate.
I know it is sort of Evangelical cliché to have your “quiet time” in the morning with a cup of coffee, but perhaps it is Biblical in the Nehemiah sense. If we are supposed to rejoice and celebrate as we understand the Scriptures as they are made known to us, and if coffee is our sweet drink, shouldn’t they go together?
Don’t stop learning the Bible. Scripture is a lifelong experience of understanding. Let us rejoice in what has been made know to us.
Join me in finishing this year by reading through the Bible through a Psalm a Day. Find my reading plan here.
All Scripture used on Oregon Christian Girl comes from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Unless otherwise noted.