“[A]ll the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” (Nehemiah 8:1 – 3)
Nehemiah was distraught to tears and wailing upon hearing the fate of those in Jerusalem who, while escaping captivity, were nonetheless suffering. Something needed to be done, and he felt from the Lord that he was the one to do it – so he did. And here they are now, ready to be reminded of what had been set down so many generations ago. It was, beloved reader, the book of the law which the apostle Paul much later said did not have the power to save.
“And 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. Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” (Verses 5 – 6)
There were others there, besides Ezra, who helped explain what had been set down in the book of the law. I can imagine it was a heartbreaking time, a time of saying “we had forgotten & we did not know”. A time of realizing how far they had drifted from what was expected according to the law. Course correction. We know that, beloved reader, course correction. Turning away from what caused only heartbreak and pain to that which promises new hope. It is an often repeated story.
“So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Verses 8 – 10)
We are now three Sundays from Epiphany, when the fullness of what Jesus meant and means to humanity is revealed. And am also remembering my resolution – “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest” (Isaiah 62:1b) which I interpreted for myself to mean that I would speak up in support of others. And assist where I can, as did Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites who ministered to the people assembled at the Water Gate. Is that not a wonderful image, ministering at the “Water Gate” quenching the spiritual thirst of humanity?! Shalom & Selah!