“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Even though the apostle Paul wrote those words to the Roman church (Rom. 10:17) hundreds of years later, it had been necessary for the Jews who had returned from exile to hear the word of God. The law that God had given to Moses during the wilderness wandering had been grossly neglected. Through God’s providence it had been preserved, but it had not been observed. With Jerusalem’s wall having been rebuilt, the people were in a joyous and receptive mood. About thirteen years earlier, Ezra had returned with about fifteen hundred men plus women and children and as priest had begun to restore their worship and government, but his work had not been completed.
As governor, Nehemiah was primarily responsible for civil law and Ezra, the priest was responsible for religious activities of the Jews. On the first day of the seventh month Ezra brought the Book of the Law of Moses and read to the people who were capable of understanding. He read from the book and various Levites explained it for several hours each day for seven days. If one fails to read and study the Bible today, he will be ignorant of God’s commands just at those Jews were during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Upon hearing God’s commands and realizing their failure to observe His decrees, the people began to weep. That was a natural reaction, but they were told to rejoice instead of weeping. It was a time of feasting and it was good that they were finally learning of their responsibilities to their God.
The Feast of Tabernacles, a remembrance of the type of dwellings the Israelites had lived in during the forty-year wilderness wanderings had been neglected since the days of Joshua, Moses’ successor. They built booths or tents using various types of leafy branches. Those booths were placed on housetops open courtyards and other open spaces available.
While mourning in sackcloth and ashes, the Levites stood before the people and cried out to God in confession and repentance of their past rebellions. They proclaimed the one true God’s presence and glory from the creation to that present time. He had made a covenant with Abram/Abraham to make from him a great nation. Israel was that nation. The Levites acknowledged His mercy and care for them throughout the ages even as they were justifiably punished because of the hardness and disobedience of themselves and of their fathers. As they recounted their history as a rebellious nation, the Levites prayed for continued mercy and forgiveness. “And because of all this, We make a sure covenant and write it; Our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it.”
Nehemiah, the governor along with various priests, Levites, leaders and brethren placed their seal on the covenant with God. The people also agreed to the covenant under oath and penalty of a curse for breaking their oath. That covenant proclaimed complete obedience to the statutes of the Law of Moses. Sadly, history relates that they failed to keep that covenant.