One of the subjects I have always found fascinating is history. I know some of you might be groaning on that topic, but beyond my interest in it I am persuaded that knowing history is key to helping us understand how we got to ‘now’ and how we can be less likely to repeat the mistakes we made before.
It seems clear that students of history must be in the minority because we as individuals, cultures, and nations so often repeat mistakes we should have learned from in the past.
“The thing about mistakes is, they become valuable when you learn from them.”
Lisa Wingate in The Sea Keeper’s Daughter
We live in an era where almost everyone has an opinion about almost everything. Unfortunately the opinions are often presented as though they are facts or that facts back them up. We seem to care little about that and gobble them down as if they were certified organic and healthy.
This behavior permeates all areas of our lives − even in the body of Christ.
I have been delving again into a couple of historical books in the Old Testament in my reading (Ezra and Nehemiah). These two books that were originally one book give us a picture of how the children of Abraham are doing after being in captivity in Babylon. Each of the persons for whom the books are named shares important information from which we can all glean wisdom.
These books are not new to me, but it isn’t unusual when we are reading passages or books in the Bible to have new things jump out at us.
Ezra arrived back in Jerusalem thirteen years before Nehemiah and despite his love of God and the law, it isn’t until chapter 8 of Nehemiah that we see him reading the law to those who have returned to rebuild the temple and the walls of the city. His zeal is evident, as he desires to make clear to the returning exiles how essential it was to know God’s law that they had abandoned before God gave them over to Babylonian captivity.
The scene in this eighth chapter is worth noting. It tells us that all the people of Israel gathered “as one man” into the square in front of the Water Gate. Ezra brings out the Book of the Law of Moses and he begins reading the whole of it. He begins in the early morning and continues until midday. The text also says “all the people were attentive.”
Ezra blesses the Lord and these tenets of Israel’s faith. What happens next?
Everyone says “amen” and lifts up their hands and worships God and bow their faces to the ground. They were grieved when they learned how far they had strayed from God’s plan for them.
They had received a large dose of the truth upon which to live, speak, and carry out their faith. This truth wasn’t opinion or speculation.
As we hear debates about positions of faith today on a diverse list of areas and moral questions − even among members of the Christian faith − I am puzzled by how so many different opinions can exist if our positions are based on the truth of God’s Word.
Is it possible that not unlike the children of Israel too many do not know the truth (based on scripture) to inform their opinions or positions?
We are all always learning and growing in understanding of what the Bible says, but how much we learn and grow has a direct correlation to how much we have read and studied of it. We only get glimpses if our knowledge is based on a Sunday sermon, an Internet message, or a devotional we read.
To more fully understand the truth and speak from the source of that truth requires us to spend time reading in the Bible in its whole, not parts and pieces. That requires a discipline, but it also points to how we respond to the question of the risen Jesus when He asked Peter, “Do you love me?”
If we are brutally honest, we know that so long as we practice anything out of duty or as a discipline it will not be sustainable. If we love what we practice, however, it will not seem a burden to practice.
I wonder if our debates within the whole body of Christ shows how faulty our foundational understanding is of the Bible we say we believe. God does not intend for us (if we are his) to rely solely on a pastor or teacher to learn the truth meant to guide and sustain us through good times and bad.
In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah The Law of Moses was not available to everyone in a dozen translations and most of the poor people could not read. Not so today.
What if all our Christian leaders would stand up and begin reading the Bible from beginning to end as we stood there listening and we heard truth we may never have heard or recognized previously?
Would it change our dialogue and debates?
Would we respond in grief and worship as the people who stood before Ezra and Nehemiah as Ezra read to them?