OT Reading – February 11

Nehemiah 8-9

Nehemiah 8

Ezra Reads the Law

8 And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. 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!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.

“This Day Is Holy”

Then 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 were weeping when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.

Feast of Booths Restored

13 Then on the second day the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law. 14 They found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month.15 So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” 16 So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. 17 The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing. 18 He read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance.

 

Nehemiah 9

The People Confess Their Sin

9 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God. Now on the Levites’ platform stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Chenani, and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God.

Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah, said, “Arise, bless the Lord your God forever and ever!

O may Your glorious name be blessed And exalted above all blessing and praise! “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You. “You are the Lord God, Who chose Abram And brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, And gave him the name Abraham. “You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give him the land of the Canaanite, Of the Hittite and the Amorite, Of the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite— To give it to his descendants. And You have fulfilled Your promise, For You are righteous.

“You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, And heard their cry by the Red Sea. 10 “Then You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, Against all his servants and all the people of his land; For You knew that they acted arrogantly toward them, And made a name for Yourself as it is this day. 11 “You divided the sea before them, So they passed through the midst of the sea on dry ground; And their pursuers You hurled into the depths, Like a stone into raging waters. 12 “And with a pillar of cloud You led them by day, And with a pillar of fire by night To light for them the way In which they were to go. 13 “Then You came down on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments. 14 “So You made known to them Your holy sabbath, And laid down for them commandments, statutes and law, Through Your servant Moses. 15 “You provided bread from heaven for them for their hunger, You brought forth water from a rock for them for their thirst, And You told them to enter in order to possess The land which You swore to give them.

16 “But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; They became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments. 17 “They refused to listen, And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them. 18 “Even when they made for themselves A calf of molten metal And said, ‘This is your God Who brought you up from Egypt,’ And committed great blasphemies, 19 You, in Your great compassion, Did not forsake them in the wilderness; The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, To guide them on their way, Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go. 20 “You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, And You gave them water for their thirst. 21 “Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want; Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. 22 “You also gave them kingdoms and peoples, And allotted them to them as a boundary. They took possession of the land of Sihon the king of Heshbon And the land of Og the king of Bashan. 23 “You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven, And You brought them into the land Which You had told their fathers to enter and possess. 24 “So their sons entered and possessed the land. And You subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, And You gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, To do with them as they desired. 25 “They captured fortified cities and a fertile land. They took possession of houses full of every good thing, Hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, Fruit trees in abundance. So they ate, were filled and grew fat, And reveled in Your great goodness.

26 “But they became disobedient and rebelled against You, And cast Your law behind their backs And killed Your prophets who had admonished them So that they might return to You, And they committed great blasphemies. 27 “Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them, But when they cried to You in the time of their distress, You heard from heaven, and according to Your great compassion You gave them deliverers who delivered them from the hand of their oppressors. 28 “But as soon as they had rest, they did evil again before You; Therefore You abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they ruled over them. When they cried again to You, You heard from heaven, And many times You rescued them according to Your compassion, 29 And admonished them in order to turn them back to Your law. Yet they acted arrogantly and did not listen to Your commandments but sinned against Your ordinances, By which if a man observes them he shall live. And they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck, and would not listen. 30 “However, You bore with them for many years, And admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets, Yet they would not give ear. Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31 “Nevertheless, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, For You are a gracious and compassionate God.

32 “Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness, Do not let all the hardship seem insignificant before You, Which has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers and on all Your people, From the days of the kings of Assyria to this day. 33 “However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. 34 “For our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers have not kept Your law Or paid attention to Your commandments and Your admonitions with which You have admonished them. 35 “But they, in their own kingdom, With Your great goodness which You gave them, With the broad and rich land which You set before them, Did not serve You or turn from their evil deeds. 36 “Behold, we are slaves today, And as to the land which You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, Behold, we are slaves in it. 37 “Its abundant produce is for the kings Whom You have set over us because of our sins; They also rule over our bodies And over our cattle as they please, So we are in great distress.

A Covenant Results

38 “Now because of all this We are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests.”

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB © The Lockman Foundation (www.lockman.org)

#DontBeAPharisee

Matthew 12:1-14

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He often conversed and rubbed shoulders with stubborn, hard-hearted people. He preached sermons and gave talks to people who had no intention of listening. He often found Himself ministering to people who wanted nothing to do with His way of life or the salvation that He offered. The sad thing is that those who were most opposed to Jesus should have been His biggest supporters. Jesus’ opposition came primarily from men who knew the Bible inside and out but failed to really hear and understand what it meant.

The Jews since antiquity have had three sects of philosophy: the Essenes, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees.(1) Our passage of interest records two hostile encounters with the most prominent group, the Pharisees.

Much of what we know about the Pharisees comes from Josephus, the Gospels, and the Rabbinic tradition after AD 70.(2)  While the gospels describe the Pharisees negatively, Josephus is prejudiced in favor of them. Josephus records this: “The Pharisees simplify their way of life and give in to no sort of softness; and they follow the guidance of what their doctrine has handed down and prescribes as good… Because of these doctrines they hold great influence among the populace, and all divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices are performed according to their direction. In doing so the cities bear witness to all their virtuous conduct, both in their way of life and in their words.”(3)

The Pharisees were respected in their communities because they were whole-heartedly committed to God’s Law. Yet the Pharisees, as religious separatists, prided themselves in their own righteousness.(4) Their way of life bred pride, legalism, and self-righteousness. R. T. France describes it this way, “Pharisaic concern for the detailed regulation of religious duty was in danger of putting the rules before the good purpose for which they were given.”

In other words, the Pharisees’ zeal for the law had turned them into self-righteous hypocrites who “followed the law” at the expense of hurting themselves and others. Their approach to keeping the law actually resulted in their own breaking of the law. They had lost sight of the fact that God desires mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). Jesus points out that the law was created to serve people, instead of people being created to serve the law.

What About Us?

The question must now be raised; “What about us?” How can we protect ourselves from being heartless rule followers? How can we be men and women who follow Jesus from the heart and minister to others out of a desire to be like Christ? It would be foolish to think that we couldn’t possibly turn into the Pharisees that Jesus criticized in Matthew 12.

We are just as capable of reading but not understanding, hearing but not doing, and seeing but failing to perceive. We are just as capable of living the hypocritical lifestyles that Jesus accused the Pharisees of living.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon pointed out that it is possible to read the Bible, know the Bible, and be passionate about the Bible, but completely misunderstand what the Bible is really teaching. He warns that, “Much apparent Bible reading is not Bible reading at all. The verses pass under the eye, and the sentences glide over the mind, but there is no true reading. An old preacher used to say, the Word has mighty free course among many nowadays, for it goes in at one of their ears and out at the other; so it seems to be with some readers—they can read a very great deal, because they do not read anything… Now, beloved, unless we understand what we read we have not read it; the heart of the reading is absent.”(5)

My hope is that Matthew 12 would inspire people to be continually transformed by God’s Word instead of hardened by it. This passage serves as a good reminder that it is only those who come into God’s presence with humility and brokenness that will leave changed by Him. It’s a reminder to check our hearts and ask why we even read and study the Bible in the first place.

Why do we attend church? Serve? I would suggest that if everything we do is not motivated by a heart of worship, it is a great offense to God. Even our rule following can be disgusting in God’s sight.

Let us be men and women who exalt God first and foremost and live out the demands of Scripture because of our love for Jesus and others, rather than out of a love for the applause of men.

Ricky

(1) Josephus. Antiquities 18.1.2-3 11-13

(2) Green, Michael. (1988). Matthew. The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Matthew. Pg. 144-147

(3) Josephus. Antiquities 18.1.2-3 11-13

(4) Augsburger, Myron S. (1982). Matthew. The Communicators Commentary. Pg. 121-122

(5) Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon

 

September 13 – Weekend Passage

Matthew 12:1-14

 

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

A Man with a Withered Hand

9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Scripture quotations taken from the ESV