The last several chapters of Nehemiah seem to be a spiritual building for Israel. Now that the physical and emotional need for security was met with the rebuilding of the wall, it was time to focus on a spiritual rebuilding. After years of captivity, the Jews were unfamiliar with the law, and Nehemiah knew that knowledge of the law would bring a spiritual reformation for the nation of Israel. Nehemiah chose to use the Feast of the Tabernacle as the time to have Ezra read the law. The purpose for the Feast of the Tabernacle was to affirm Israel’s commitment to God and to recognize God as their source of guidance and security. It reflected on Israel’s time of wandering in the desert. It probably seemed a fitting time to gather the people to listen to a reading of the law. It was a moving experience for the people as they heard the law, probably the first time for most, and they cried as they learned how far they had strayed from obedience. Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests instructed the people to celebrate and share with others rather than cry because it was a holy day.
Have you ever had a period in your life when your commitment to God hit a plateau or a decline? I have, and when I look back at those times, it always coincides with a failure to be in the Word and spending time with God. I don’t know why I let my walk slip at times, but I think it starts with small moments of disobedience rather than a giant leap in the wrong direction. There have been times that I skip my Bible study so I can finish a novel. There is nothing wrong with reading a novel, but it doesn’t need to become a priority over spending time with God.
As I read through chapter 8, I saw a clue into one of the first steps of disobedience for Israel. The exiles who returned celebrated the Feast of the Tabernacles by building booths and living in them for the duration of the festival. This was commanded by God through Moses. In verse 17 we read, “The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was great.” Who is Joshua son of Nun? He is the same Joshua that crossed the Jordan and led the Israelites to march around the city of Jericho. If I am reading this correctly, that means that the Israelites had not been celebrating the feast the way God had directed them almost since they settled in Israel. It doesn’t seem like a major deal, but it was a small act of disobedience. One small act of disobedience can lead to another until you find yourself a far way from where God wants you to be.
Does your spiritual life need a new commitment? Is there a small area you have been disobedient to God? If your life is vibrant and growing, where do you need to watch your step to avoid a plateau?