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By Rosco Brong

Learning from Law
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 8; 9:32-38

Unless we remember the proper place and function of the written law in the government of God, we are likely to find ourselves lost in a blind alley of legalism in trying to teach from the law. So the apostle Paul wrote of some people "desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm." (I Tim. 1:7.) To avoid this fatal error, we must ever he reminded of the gospel truth:

"The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Gal. 3:24.)

With this inspired explanation in mind, we may study our lesson under three main heads:

1. Learning of Guilt, 8:1-3, 8.
a. Desire for teaching, 1.
b. Means of teaching, 2, 3.
c. Method of teaching, 8.
2. Prayer and Confession, 9:32-37.
a. Greatness of God, 32, 33.
b. Failure of man, 34, 35.
c. Present distress, 36, 37.
3. Trying Again, 9:38.
Notes on the Printed Text:

Learning of Guilt, 8:1-3, 8.
"Knowledge of sin" comes from the law of God. (Ro. 3:20; 7:7.) Too few sinners, lost or saved, in the world today realize with any very deep conviction that they are sinners. Plain preaching against sin has never been popular or fashionable, and is perhaps less so today than ever before. But God's holy law abides unchanged, and all who wish to know can learn therefrom of His righteous judgment upon sin and sinners.

Desire for teaching, 1.
It is a great blessing of God when His people are troubled enough by their sins to desire instruction from His word. Both lost sinners and backslidden saints need to learn of the consequences of sin. Among the chief reasons for widespread lack of interest in the word of God is certainly widespread ignorance of human depravity, common wickedness, spiritual need. Sometimes God awakens a few of His people to their spiritual needs through spiritual preaching; sometimes only His temporal judgments will stir them up to needed revival.

Here we read of a people that had suffered enough that they did not have to be coaxed to come out and hear the preacher: on the contrary, "they gathered themselves together as one man" and called for the preacher to bring them God's word. How sorely must some of our modern church members be afflicted before they too will voluntarily come together with eagerness to hear the message of the word of God?

Means of teaching, 2, 3.
Public preaching by God-called preachers to congregations of men, women, and children, "all that could hear with understanding," is still God's favored means of teaching. Other means may be used, but must not be allowed to detract from or interfere with God's chosen means of saving "them that believe" (I Corinthians 1:21.)

Without commenting on the laziness, carnality, or outright wickedness of church members who refuse or neglect to attend both the Sunday school and the preaching services of their church, we are surely on scriptural ground in declaring that the preaching service must hold first rank in the services of a New Testament church and in the minds and hearts of its members.

Let it be noted, moreover, that the people in our lesson did not come together to visit or gossip with one another or to enjoy special singing, however good that might be; but for something far more important: that they might give attention "unto the book of the law."

Method of teaching, 8.
If there is anything more tragic than for God's people to forsake the assembling of themselves together, it is the spectacle of their preacher failing to give them any spiritual food when they do assemble.

Ezra and his fellow preachers had no time to waste in telling stories to entertain the crowd or in delivering social, literary, psychological, or philosophical essays to prove that they had been reading the latest books and keeping up with the times.

God's word is what God's people need to hear, and so it was God's word that these preachers read. They read distinctly. It is a pity when a preacher or teacher cannot read aloud distinctly, so that the audience can hear and discern the words read. Further, the preachers "gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading." That is what preachers are for: not to introduce their own ideas, which are likely to have come from Satan; but simply to declare and explain the word of God.

Prayer and Confession, 9:32-37.
Eight Levites are credited in verse 5 with this prayer of which only the closing verses are included in our lesson. Whether they prayed in unison, by course, or through a single spokesman we are not told. At any rate, as is proper in public prayer, it was offered in behalf of all the people.

Greatness of God, 32, 33.
"Therefore" (32) points back to the dreary summation of perpetual backsliding, repeated judgments, and revivals in divine mercies through generations past. Only the greatness and goodness of God held any hope of renewed mercy toward a people who had "done wickedly" (33) but were nevertheless the people of His covenant.

Failure of man, 34, 35.
Not only the lower classes of society, but kings and princes, priests and fathers, (34) had failed to keep God's law and refused to hear His commandments and testimonies. Their rebellion and disobedience was deepseated and continuous despite the great goodness of God (35) Who blessed them with material prosperity. In the face of all His gracious provision, they persisted in their wicked works.

Present distress, 36, 37.
From a position of mastery and inheritance in a land flowing with milk and honey for which they had not labored, the Jews had been reduced to slavery in that same land (36); and foreign kings (37) were increasing their wealth at the expense of God's down-trodden people. These people were indeed "in great distress," but at least the praying Levites realized that their present predicament was "because of our sins."

Trying Again, 9:38.
Perhaps the saddest part of our lesson is the sad fact that the best thing these people could do was to renew their vows to do better; to covenant anew "to walk in God's law" (10:29). They and their fathers had tried this often enough, just as their followers, Jews and Gentiles, keep trying it today. All such efforts, sincere as they may be, have always failed, and must always fail. Only the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, can produce law-abiding character. See Romans 8:1-4.

Key Verse: "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments."

"The law is good, if a man use it lawfully." (I Timothy 1:8.) Preparation for seeking, doing, and teaching the law of God needs to be of the heart and not merely of the head. By first preparing his heart, Ezra understood and tried to teach what perhaps few of the people grasped with spiritual understanding,: "The joy of the Lord is your strength." (Neh. 8:10.)

[From Ashland Avenue Baptist paper, September 6, 1968, pp. 2-3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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