I have a Bible that I truly treasure. It is the “Sword Drill Bible” that was presented to me on March 25, 1963 by the Long Beach Harbor Baptist Association. I love the Word of God. I believe that the Bible is God’s love letter to His children. It is meant to be read, memorized, and obeyed. Believers need the Word of God as much as the newborn craves milk. Unfortunately, there is a biblical drought and Christians are starving to death.
The 2014 George Barna “State of the Bible” study showed some alarming trends. The percentage of Americans who believe the Bible is sacred has fallen from 86% in 2011 to 79% in 2014. Encouraging is that than half of Americans (56%) are “pro-Bible” – meaning they believe the Bible is the actual, or inspired, word of God with no errors. However, only 37% of Americans report reading the Bible once a week and among those who have read the Scripture in the previous week, 57% say they gave a lot of thought to how it might apply to their life. Barna concluded, “Even as Bible ownership remains strong, readership and engagement are weak.”
Not so in this story. The people are so hungry to hear the Word of God that they plan an extraordinary event in the city – a citywide revival focused on the reading and understanding of the Word of God. Like any modern day revival the leaders planed carefully. They choose Ezra to read. He is a scribe (8:1), someone who had mastered the Books of Moses. He is also a priest (2:2), someone who served in the Temple and whose role was to lead the people into the presence of God.
They chose a significant date. The first day of the seventh month (September-October) was the month of Tishri. During this month, the people celebrated the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) as well Sukkot (Feast of Booths). The revival of the reading of the Word of God would be of the first order on the day of the Feast of Trumpets. They chose to build a high wooden platform easily viewed by the crowds and large enough to hold Ezra and 13 other dignitaries. The choice of the Water Gate (Neh. 3:26) is significant, at least for me, in that water is used in the Bible as a symbol of cleansing and new life (Jn. 4:13-15).
Notice the response of the people to the reading of God’s Word and ask yourself, “How do I respond to the Word of God?”
Be attentive to God’s Word
Believers hunger for the Word of God. They not only made the revival plans but they “gathered together as one man” – some estimate 30,000-50,000 men, women, and children hungering to hear the Word of God (7:65-69; 8:2) Their hunger for the Word was such that they listened from “morning until midday” which would have been five to six hours (8:2).
Theirs was not a passive listening. Their minds did not drift off nor were the people multi-tasking. Rather, the text makes clear that the “the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law” (8:3). Those gathered at the revival were active listeners – hungering to hear, understand, and apply what Ezra read to their lives. Is there a hunger in you to read the Word of God, to hear the Word of God, and to apply the Word of God in your life?
Worship and obedience
Believers respond to God’s word with worship and obedience. Imagine the scene. As Ezra opens the book, spontaneously the people stand in reverence for the Word of God and as an affirmation of their hunger to hear it. For those in attendance the words Ezra was reading were not his words. They were not even the words of Moses – they were the very Words of God.
Immediately, the focus changes from reading the Word to worshipping the author. Someone noted that while Southern Baptists are “the people of the book,” we do not worship the book. Rather, we worship the Author of the book. Notice the three movements in this worship.
First, Ezra blesses “the Lord, the great God” (8:6). Lord (Yahweh) was the sacred covenant name for God and there was none greater than Him. Second, the people lifted their hands toward heaven as they shouted “Amen, Amen,” affirming their agreement and submission to the authority of what was being read. Third, they worshiped God. Shachah is the Hebrew word for “worship,” which means to lower one’s body or kneel and the forehead touch the ground or to be prostrate on the ground as an expression of profound reverence or showing honor.
When was the last time you fell upon your knees and touched the ground with your forehead or prostrated yourself on the ground as an expression of reverence and obedience to God?
Study God’s Word, ensure understanding
Believers seek out to understand God’s Word. Those attending the revival had lived most if not all of their lives in a foreign country and had lost much of their language and cultural heritage. The revival planner made sure there were at least 13 Levites who circulated among the people to make sure the people understood what was being said. They may have translated the text from Hebrew into Aramaic or Chaldee, the vernacular dialect which the exiles spoke in Babylon (8:7-8) and explained its meaning. The revival planners knew that life transformation happens only when the reader truly understood the message.
Believers who hunger for the Word set aside time not simply to read it but also to understand it and obey it. What plans have you made to dig deeper into the Word?
Imagine you and your church engaged in a life-transforming event: a revival of reading, understanding, and obeying the Word of God.