Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel.The Curse Turned Into a Blessing
Refers to the time when Balak sent for Balaam to curse Israel.
I. God Turns His Own Curses into Blessings.
1. Toil: leads to self-denial and self-sacrifice.
2. Difficulty: calls forth energy and develops strength.
3. Danger: awakens courage and fortitude.
4. Pain: reminds us of the evil of sin.
5. Sorrow: acts as a refiner's fire.
II. God Turns Man's Curses into Blessings.—The crucifixion of Christ was the means of man's redemption.
The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church.
—F. J. Austin, Seeds and Saplings, p. 80.
References.—XIII. 2.—B. J. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. 1897, p. 153. XIII. 11.—J. H. Jowett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxix. 1891, p. 92. Ambrose Shepherd, The Gospel and Social Questions, p. 73. XIII. 15-22.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—2 Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, p. 391.
The Word of God
This chapter is a wonderfully beautiful story of the way in which the people gathered together to hear the Word of God, and what the effect of that hearing was upon their life from that time forward. The people desired the Word of God to be read to them, and the people who were waiting were met by the priest, who was willing. When priest and people are thus united, there will always follow blessing.
I. Notice the reception of the Word of God. When Ezra read we are told the people stood. What an example this is. The people stood up according to the Jewish custom to hear the Word, and indeed in certain parts of the Christian Church today, as in former days, the people always stand up when the lessons are being read. That is the reason why we stand up during the Gospel in the Communion Service. It is the last remnant of an old custom, showing our reverence for that part of the Word of God which has to do directly with the Lord Jesus. We cannot be too reverent with the Word of God.
And then notice their reverence in their worship. When they stood up Ezra blessed God and the people answered, Amen. They were in the presence of God. And then with carefulness they listened, and Ezra not only read, but he gave the sense of it.
II. From the reading and the reception, let us notice now the result. The first thing that resulted from this reading of the Word of God was a sense of sin. They began to weep and to cry. Why? Because they were conscious that their life had not been according to that Word that God had laid down, the law about those feasts which they had neglected and disregarded.
And then there comes a second result—a sense of peace. For we are told distinctly that Ezra and Nehemiah, and they that taught the people, said: 'Do not be sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength'. That is to say, You have heard the law and you have not obeyed it; if you obey the law now, the result will be peace. 'Great peace have they that love Thy law.' And so it is when the Word of God comes for the first time into contact with our life. We are convicted of sin and condemned in the sight of God. That is the first result of coming into contact with God's Word.
But the very Word that brings us to a sense of our sins brings us the means whereby our sins can be forgiven, and the joy of the Lord comes to that man who accepts and follows that Word. The Word of God at once condemns us because of our sin, and then it shows us how there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who have accepted Him as their Saviour and Friend. So they forbade the people to be sorrowful: they urged them to joy: 'The joy of the Lord is your strength'. And then they not only told them to be joyful, but they were told to share the blessedness: 'Go your way, eat the fat and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared.... Neither be ye sorry. And so they stilled and quieted the people. And that will always be the result when a man comes into contact with God's Word, and receives God's Word into his heart. That man will always long to share the blessing with some one else. He will pass it on; he will send the Gospel to those who have not yet received it, or realized the power and blessedness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Bible must always be the centre of our Church life. The Word of God must be preached, not the word of man; and the Word of God must also be pondered. Ezra did his part, and the people did theirs. You may have the most faithful ministry, but without a response on the part of the congregation that ministry will count for practically and comparatively very little. The Word of God must be pondered day by day. If you will take God's Word and ponder it for yourself, you will find the power and the blessing and the peace of it in your life.
The Word of God must also be practised. These people put their Word of God into practice. They at once observed God's law about the Feast of Tabernacles. They at once shared their blessings with those who had none; they showed the joy of the Lord in their life as well as on their lips. That is what we want and long for in connexion with all congregations—the Word of God as the centre of Church life. But in order that this may be so, the Word of God must be the core of individual life. Our life will be a life of repentance, of joy, of peace, of love, of wholehearted devotion, and obedience, and unselfish sympathy, and regard, just in proportion as the Word of God is the core and centre of our being. If you want to know how this should be so, the Word of God must be desired. These people desired the Word of God. St. Peter says we are to desire the sincere milk of the Word, that we may grow thereby.
There must be not only desire, but attention to the Word of God. The people heeded, and with the attention came reception. They received the Word of God into their very life. And then there was reproduction. They translated that Word into practice, and the Word became the power of God in their life. And if you and I will see that this is so in our individual life, God, even our own God, will bless us.
References.—VIII. 8.—A. N. Obbard, Plain Sermons, p. 26. VIII. 9, 10.—J. Hamilton, Faith in God, p. 303.
Strength in Joy
The wall of Jerusalem had been built by those who had returned from captivity, and the people being assembled the law of the Lord was read to them. And when they heard the law they wept. But they were told that their tears soiled the garments of joy with which God in His good providence had clothed them. And besides, and of greater importance still, sorrow would weaken their hands in the great work which still remained to be done. Joy was what God had vouchsafed to them, and what they needed for their work. They needed strength; and the joy of the Lord, not weeping, was the well from which it must spring.
See how the joy of the Lord gives—
I. Strength for the Discharge of Duty
II. Strength to Resist Temptation.
III. Strength to Bear Troubles.
IV. Strength of Perseverance and Hope.
If, then, the joy of the Lord is a man's strength, it must be his bounden duty to cultivate it, and, with God's help, enlarge it. The man is sinful as well as unwise who holds stubbornly by sorrow and depression. Let faith in God lead us 'with joy to draw water out of the wells of salvation'.
References.—VIII. 10.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 1027. E. A. Draper, The Gift of Strength, p. 56. W. J. Hocking, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxix. 1891, p. 6. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—2 Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, p. 379; see also Greed and Conduct, p. 83; Sermons Preached in Manchester, p. 149. Blair's 'Religious Joy as Giving Strength and Support to Virtue,' Sermons. Jay's 'The Christian in his Spiritual Joys,' Works, vol. vi. p. 249. C. Simeon, Works, vol. iv. p. 293. Dr. Samuel Cox, 'Christmas Homily,' in Congregationalist, 1872, p. 710, and the same in his Biblical Expositions, p. 124. Maclaren's, 'The Joy of the Lord,' Sermons Preached in Manchester (1st Series), p. 136. Mackennal in Life of Christian Consecration, p. 146. IX. 17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1272.
And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.
And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.
And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up:
And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place.
So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.
Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.
So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.
And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.
And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law.
And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:
And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.
So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.
And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.
Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner.