I can imagine how Heaven must have sung with joy the day Ezra read the Book of the Law to the Israelites. At last, here was a generation assembling as one man, hungry for the words of their God.
Who was this God? This was the God who made the heavens and who breathed life to many, choosing Israel as His chosen nation. This was the God who called Abraham his friend; the same God who delivered His people from Egypt through Moses. This was the God who gave His people laws and regulations, setting a pattern of holiness for them. This was the God who watched them day and night; the God who did not forget His love. This was also the God whose heart the people of Israel had hurt; the God who did not want other gods to be worshiped. This was the same God who hated disobedience and who warned the Israelites of their consequences. This was the God who allowed for the discipline of His people, yet the very God who was bringing them back to their own land.
As the Levites instructed the people concerning the Law of their God, weeping could be heard. The people lifted their hands, crying “Amen! Amen.” Then they bowed down, worshiping the LORD with their faces to the ground.
Nehemiah, standing as governor, saw the weeping, but he also felt the joy of the Lord. We know this because he said, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep…Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:9b-10).
With Heaven rejoicing, it seemed fitting for the people to rejoice! How strange sometimes joy is when we grieve and repent! Not only that, but that day, the Word of the Lord was understood and embraced. The Bible says, “Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them” (Nehemiah. 8:12).
I can imagine it felt like a Christmas celebration. It brings me to this thought: When the Word of God is revealed to us, do our hearts rejoice?
The people did not let the Book of the Law stay merely in their ear. The day after the assembly, the people gathered again and acted upon the words of God. They found out through the public reading that Moses and the generation of his time lived in booths during the feast of the seventh month. To honor this word and to take a step toward obeying the Lord their God, the Israelites decided to gather branches and build booths so that they, too, could celebrate in the same way that Moses and their forefathers did.
It was a nationwide building project once more! Beyond that, it was a nationwide turning of hearts to the ways of God.
Whenever a nation turns its ways to God, there is great joy. When there is repentance and obedience, there is great joy. It is a good prayer for us to want our people to turn their hearts to God. Our own nations are our inheritance. Do we pray for our nation and desire for God’s Presence to invade our homes? Our streets? Our places of government? How much do our people obey God? How much does our nation honor the Word of the LORD?
Here, we must reflect on our own individual states. How much do we personally honor God’s Word? Do we allow for God’s Word to purify us in our thinking and in our motives? Do we grieve over our disobedience? Do we repent, taking obedient steps in the Lord’s direction?
We can imagine Heaven’s joy—and our own, too—when we do so.
Janina Marie Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of One Voice Magazine, a teacher of world literature, and a student of the Bible. She enjoys reflecting on life’s curve balls and plateaus. She resides in the Philippines, the country known for people who smile a lot.