In Nehemiah 7:6-73, Nehemiah copied the register of the first people who returned from *exile. This happened about 90 years before Nehemiah became the ruler of *Judah.
In chapter 8, Nehemiah continues to explain the events while he ruled *Judah. He had arranged a special meeting for all the *Jews (Nehemiah 8:1-4). In fact, there were several meetings. They happened on the sacred holidays that were in the 7th month of the year.
At the end of these meetings, the people would decide which *Jews would live in Jerusalem (chapter 11). But first, Nehemiah wanted the people to learn about God. They did not yet know about God’s law. And they did not know how to serve God.
So, Ezra and the *Levites taught the people. The people confessed their *sins. Then they made an important agreement (chapters 9 and 10). They promised that they would serve God. And they promised to provide everything that the priests needed for the *temple.
v1 Then all the people gathered together in the square that was in front of the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the teacher to bring the book of the Law of Moses. The *Lord had told *Israel to obey this Law.v2 So on the first day of the 7th month, Ezra the priest brought the book. He brought the book of the Law to all the people. Both men and women were there. Children who were old enough to understand the Law were there, too. v3 Ezra stood. And he looked towards the square that was in front of the Water Gate. He stood in front of the men, the women and the children who could understand. Ezra read the Law aloud from dawn until midday. Everybody listened carefully. They wanted to understand what Ezra was reading from the book of the Law.
v4 Ezra the teacher stood on a high wooden platform that people had made especially for this occasion. On Ezra’s right side stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah. On Ezra’s left side stood Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
The people had finished the work on the walls of Jerusalem in the 6th month of the year (Nehemiah 6:15). The people had worked hard for 52 days. But Nehemiah had not finished his work. His next task would take much more than 52 days. Nehemiah had to make the people into a proper nation of God’s people again. They needed to learn again about God’s commands. And the people wanted to hear God’s law and to understand it.
So on the first day of the 7th month they asked Ezra the priest to read God’s law to them. They even built a high wooden platform for Ezra. He stood on the platform while he read the law. Ezra read the law to all the men and women. The children who were old enough to understand were also present. He read for about 5 or 6 hours and the people listened.
Ezra had 13 companions with him on the high platform. Perhaps they also read the law so that Ezra did not have to read for the whole time.
v5 Ezra opened the book. Everyone could see him because he was standing on the platform above the people. And when he opened the book, everyone stood up. v6 Ezra praised the *Lord, the great God. All the people raised their hands and they replied, ‘Yes, we agree, we agree!’ Then they turned their faces to the ground and they *worshipped the *Lord.
When Ezra started to read the law, all the people stood up. They wanted to give honour to God. Then Ezra praised God and the people agreed with him. Then they turned their faces to the ground. This was to show how much they wanted to give honour to God.
v7 While the people were standing there, the *Levites went among them. The *Levites helped the people to understand the Law. The names of the *Levites were Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah. v8 They read from the book of the Law of God. They made it clear and they explained its meaning. So they helped the people to understand what Ezra was reading.
Some of the *Levites also helped Ezra. They moved among the people and they read the law to smaller groups. They explained the law. And they helped the people to understand its meaning. Some of the people probably did not understand the language of the book of the law. So the *Levites had to translate into the language of the people.
v9 All the people were crying when they heard the Law. So Nehemiah the ruler, Ezra the priest and teacher, and the *Levites, who were teaching the people, spoke. They said to everyone, ‘Today is a special day for the *Lord your God. Do not be sad or cry.’ v10 Then Nehemiah said to the people, ‘Go and enjoy special food and sweet drinks. Share some of the food and drink with those who do not have any. Today is a special day for our *Lord. Do not be sad. The joy that you have in the *Lord will make you strong.’
v11 The *Levites made all the people calm. They said, ‘Stop crying, because today is a special day. Do not be sad.’
v12 Then everyone went away to enjoy a meal. They shared food and drink with other people. They had a very happy time together, because they understood the Law. They understood what Ezra and the *Levites had read to them.
The people had not heard God’s law for a long time. Ezra read the law. Then the people realised that they had *sinned. God had sent his people into *exile because they had *sinned. This made the people cry. They were sorry because they had *sinned.
But Nehemiah, Ezra and the *Levites told them not to cry. Nobody had read God’s law for a long time. But now the people were hearing God’s word again. So it was a special holy day for God.
Soon the people would confess their *sins. At that time, it would be right for them to be sad. But that was the wrong attitude on this special day. Instead, the people should be happy. God loved them and he chose them to be his own people. He had brought their families back from *exile as he promised. And he had spoken to them by his law. God was very kind to them, so they should be happy.
Nehemiah told the people to be happy and not sad. He told them to go home and to enjoy good food. He told them to share food with those who did not have any. So the people did what Nehemiah told them to do.
v13 On the second day, the leaders of all the families came together to Ezra the teacher. The priests and the *Levites also gathered with them. They wanted to study God’s Law. v14 They discovered that God’s Law said this, ‘The people of *Israel should have a special holiday in the 7th month.’ (The *Lord gave this law to Moses to give to the people of *Israel.) God’s Law said that they must make shelters from branches of trees. They must live in these shelters during this special holiday. v15 They had to tell everyone in all their cities and in Jerusalem about these commands. They must say, ‘Go to the hills. Bring back branches from different types of trees. Cut branches from trees called pines, olives, myrtles and palms. And cut branches from other trees that give shade. From these branches make shelters, as God’s Law tells us to do.’
The people wanted to hear God’s law again the next day. This time the leaders of the families came to hear what was in the book of the law. Ezra and the priests and the *Levites helped the people to study God’s law. When they all studied God’s law, they found out about a special holiday. The holiday was in the 7th month of the year. It was called the holiday of the shelters.
Actually there should have been three special holidays during the 7th month of the year.
1. The first holiday was the special day of the *trumpets (Leviticus 23:23-25). God told his people to have a special day of rest on the first day of the month. He told them not to work. He told them to meet together when they heard the sound of the *trumpets.
2. The second special day was on the 10th day of the month (Leviticus 23:26-32). That was a day for the people to be sad because they had *sinned. They should be humble and they should confess their *sins to God. Then God would forgive their *sins.
3. The third special holiday was the holiday of the shelters (Leviticus 23:33-36). It started on the 15th day of the month and it lasted for 7 days. God wanted to remind the people about the time when he rescued their *ancestors from the country called Egypt. When the people left Egypt, they lived in shelters. God had looked after them until he led them into the country called *Israel. *Judah was the south part of the land that God had promised to give to his people. So, afterwards, God said that his people should make shelters during the 7th month of the year. The people must make the shelters from branches and they must live in the shelters for 7 days. On the 8th day, the people had to meet together. This 8th day was an extra holiday. On that day, people remembered how God gave them his law. God told the people to be happy during this whole holiday (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).
When the leaders of the people studied God’s law, they discovered about the holiday of the shelters. This was a good holiday for them to hear about. God had rescued their *ancestors from Egypt many centuries earlier. Now he had rescued them from *exile in Babylon.
v16 So the people went out and brought back branches. They used these to build shelters for themselves. They built them in these places:
• on the roofs of their houses
• in their yards
• in the yard by the *temple
• in the square by the gate called Water Gate
• in the square by the gate called Ephraim Gate.
v17 All the families who had returned from *exile built shelters. Then they lived in the shelters. The people of *Israel had not done this since the time when Joshua the son of Nun lived. They had very great joy. v18 Every day of the holiday, Ezra read aloud from the book of God’s Law. The holiday lasted for 7 days. On the 8th day, the people gathered for the final meeting, as the Law ordered.
When the people learned about the holiday of the shelters they wanted to obey God. So they collected branches, which they used to build shelters. And they lived in the shelters as God had told them to do. All the people who had returned from *exile did this. They did all that God had ordered about the holiday of the shelters.
They were very happy because God had brought his people back to *Judah. God had helped them to build Jerusalem again. Now God’s people were obeying him again. And the people listened to Ezra as he read from the book of God’s law every day of the holiday.