INTERESTING FACTS : Jedidiah Morse, HISTORIAN OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION; EDUCATOR; "FATHER OF AMERICAN GEOGRAPHY"; APPOINTED BY SECRETARY OF STATE TO DOCUMENT CONDITION OF INDIAN AFFAIRS
"To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. All efforts made to destroy the foundations of our Holy Religion ultimately tend to the subversion also of our political freedom and happiness. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation? in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom? Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government ? and all the blessings which flow from them ? must fall with them."
DAILY READING : NEHEMIAH 8 ? 9; 10 - 12
TEXT : Neh 8:1 And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel. Neh 8:2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. Neh 8:3 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. Neh 8:4 And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stoo d Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. Neh 8:5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: Neh 8:6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Neh 8:7 Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. Neh 8:8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. Neh 8:9 And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Neh 8:10 Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.
THEME : PREACHING
On the background and history of this momentous occasion, I recommend you to Matthew Henry’s comments on Ezra chapter 8.
We have here an account of a solemn religious assembly, and the good work that was done in that assembly, to the honour of God and the edification of the church.
I. The time of it was the first day of the seventh month, Neh_8:2. That was the day of the feast of trumpets, which is called a sabbath, and on which they were to have a holy convocation, Lev_23:2 4; Num_29:1. But that was not all: it was one that day that the altar was set up, and they began to offer their burnt-offerings after their return out of captivity, a recent mercy in the memory of many then living; in a thankful remembrance of that, it is likely, they had kept this feast ever since with more than ordinary solemnity. Divine favours which are fresh in mind, and which we ourselves have been witnesses of, should be, and usually are, most affecting.
II. The place was in the street that was before the water-gate (Neh_8:1), a spacious broad street, able to contain so great a multitude, which the court of the temple was not; for probably it was not now built nearly so large as it had been in Solomon's time. Sacrifices were to be offered only at the door of the temple, but praying, and praising, and preaching, were, and are, services of religion as acceptably performed in one place as in another. When this congregation thus met in the street of the city no doubt God was with them.
III. The persons that met were all the people, who were not compelled to come, but voluntarily gathered themselves together by common agreement, as one man: not only men came, but women and children, even as many as were capable of understanding what they heard. Masters of families should bring their families with them to the public worship of God. Women and children have souls to save, and are therefore concerned to acquaint themselves with the word of God and attend on the means of knowledge and grace. Little ones, as they come to the exercise of reason, must be trained up in the exercises of religion.
IV. The master of this assembly was Ezra the priest; he presided in this service. None so fit to expound and preach as he who was such a ready scribe in the law of his God. 1. His call to the service was very clear; for being in office as a priest, and qualified as a scribe, the people spoke to him to bring the book of the law and read it to them, Neh_8:1. God gave him ability and authority, and then the people gave him opportunity and invitation. Knowledge is spiritual alms, which those that are able should give to every one that needs, to every one that asks. 2. His post was very convenient. He stood in a pulpit or tower of wood, which they made for the word (so it is in the original), for the preaching of the word, that what he said might be the more gracefully delivered and the better heard, and that the eyes of the hearers might be upon him, which would engage their attention, as Luk_4:20. 3. He had several assistants. Some of these stood with him (Neh_8:4), six on his right hand and seven on his left: either his pulpit was so contrived as to hold them all in a row, as in a gallery (but then it would scarcely have been called a tower), or they had desks a degree lower. Some think, that he appointed them to read when he was weary; at least his taking them as assessors with him put an honour upon them before the people, in order to their being employed in the same service another time. Others who are mentioned (Neh_8:7) seem to have been employed at the same time in other places near at hand, to read and expound to those who could not come within hearing of Ezra. Of these also there were thirteen priests, whose lips were to keep knowledge, Mal_2:7. It is a great mercy to a people thus to be furnished with ministers that are apt to teach. Happy was Ezra in having such assistants as these, and happy were they in having such a guide as Ezra.
V. The religious exercises performed in this assembly were not ceremonial, but moral, praying and preaching. Ezra, as president of the assembly, was, 1. The people's mouth to God, and they affectionately joined with him, Neh_8:6. He blessed the Lord as the great God, gave honour to him by praising his perfections and praying for his favour; and the people, in token of their concurrence with him both in prayers and praises, said, Amen, Amen, lifted up their hands in token of their desire being towards God and all their expectations from him, and bowed their heads in token of their reverence of him and subjection to him. Thus must we adore God, and address ourselves to him, when we are goin g to read and hear the word of God, as those that see God in his word very great and very good. 2. God's mouth to the people, and they attentively hearkened to him. This was the chief business of the solemnity, and observe, (1.) Ezra brought the law before the congregation, Neh_8:2. He had taken care to provide himself with the best and most correct copies of the law; and what he had laid up for his own use and satisfaction he here brought forth, as a good householder out of his treasury, for the benefit of the church. Observe, [1.] The book of the law is not to be confined to the scribes' studies, but to be brought before the congregation and read to them in their own language. [2.] Ministers, when they go to the pulpit, should take their Bibles with them; Ezra did so; thence they must fetch their knowledge, and according to that rule they must speak and must show that they do so. See 2Ch_17:9. (2.) He opened the book with great reverence and solemnity, in the sight of all the people, Neh_8:5. He brought it forth with a sense of the great mercy of God to them in giving them that book; he opened it with a sense of his mercy to them in giving them leave to read it, that it was not a spring shut up and a fountain sealed. The taking of the books, and the opening of the seals, we find celebrated with joy and praise, Rev_5:9. Let us learn to address ourselves to the services of religion with solemn stops and pauses, and not to go about them rashly; let us consider what we are doing when we take God's book into our hands, and open it, and so also when we bow our knees in prayer; and what we do let us do deliberately, Ecc_5:1. (3.) He and others read in the book of the law, from morning till noon (Neh_8:3), and they read distinctly, Neh_8:8. Reading the scriptures in religious assemblies is an ordinance of God, whereby he is honoured and his church edified. And, upon special occasions, we must be willing to attend for many hours together on the reading and expounding of the word of God: those mentioned here were thus employed for six hours. Let those that read and preach the word learn also to deliver themselves distinctly, as those who understand what they say and are affected with it themselves, and who desire that those they speak to may understand it, retain it, and be affected with it likewise. It is a snare for a man to devour that which is holy. (4.) What they read they expounded, showed the intent and meaning of it, and what use was to be made of it; they gave the sense in other words, that they might cause the people to understand the reading, Neh_8:7, Neh_8:8. Note, [1.] It is requisite that those who hear the word should understand it, else it is to them but an empty sound of words, Mat_24:15. [2.] It is therefore required of those who are teachers by office that they explain the word and give the sense of it. Understandest thou what thou readest? and, Have you understood all these things? are good questions to be put to the hearers; but, How should we except someone guide us? is as proper a question for them to put to their teachers, Act_8:30, Act_8:31. Reading is good, and preaching good, but expounding brings the reading and the preaching together, and thus makes the reading the more intelligible and the preaching the more convincing. (5.) The people conducted themselves very properly when the word was read and opened to them. [1.] With great reverence. When Ezra opened the book all the people stood up (Neh_8:5), thereby showing respect both to Ezra and to the word he was about to read. It becomes servants to stand when their master speaks to them, in honour to their master and to show a readiness to do as they are bidden. [2.] With great fixedness and composedness. They stood in their place (Neh_8:7); several ministers were reading and expounding at some distance from each other, and every one of the people kept his post, did not go to hear first one and then another, to make remarks upon them, but stood in his place, that he might neither give disturbance to another nor receive any disturbance himself. [3.] With great attention and a close application of mind: The ears of all the people were unto the book of the law (Neh_8:3), were even chained to it; they heard readily, and minded every word. The word of God commands attention and deserves it. If through carelessness we let much slip in hearing, there is danger that through forgetfulness we shall let all slip after hearing.
TRUTH FOR TODAY : “THE PULPIT IS GOD’S METHOD OF REACHING AND TEACHING PEOPLE”
In Nehemiah 8, we see the first [and only] use of the word “pulpit” in the Bible. The term is from Latin, and has been in use from the 14th Century. Preaching is God’s method of reaching and teaching His people. We read in 1st Corinthians –
1Co_1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
Notice here in 1st Corinthians, it not only the message that is accented, but the method as well; that is – preaching. Sad to say, preaching is undermined in our day, and thought by many Christians – including pastors, to be subservient to other methods of “reaching people.” However, Dr. Jack Hyles[1
], who pastored First Baptist Church of Hammond in Hammond Indiana - for years the largest Independent Baptist Church in America with over 20,000 people in attendance each week, had a high view of preaching and teaching. In his Book – “Teaching on Preaching,” he gives some keen insights about preaching. I incl ude a portion of it here, and is absoultely worthy of your time to read, review, and reflect on his thoughts. He writes -
Several years ago a poll was taken among preachers concerning the different duties of the ministry: (1) administration, (2) teaching, (3) preaching, (4) pastoring, (5) priestly work, and (6) church business. The question was asked to hundreds of preachers, "What do you think is the most important of these ministries?" Overwhelmingly the response was, "Preaching."
The second question was asked: "Which occupies most of your time?" To that question the answer was overwhelmingly, "Administration," and preaching was last on the list.
How tragic! That which we feel is most important is what we do the least.
Oh, how America needs preaching! When John Knox left Scotland, the country had deteriorated morally and spiritually. Finally John Knox decided to return to Scotland. It is said that on every street corner the word was being spread, "Knox is coming! Knox is coming! Knox is coming!" The entire country was filled with electricity because the preacher was returning. Scotland needed Knox. England needed Spurgeon. America needed Moody, and this old sin-cursed world needs preaching again! In Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah called himself a preacher. In Luke 4:18 Jesus was a preacher. In II Peter 2:5 Noah was called "a preacher of righteousness." In Ecclesiastes 1:1 Solomon was called "the Preacher." In I Timothy 2:7 Paul said that he was "ordained a preacher." In Mark 1:14 we find that Jesus came to Galilee "preaching the Gospel." In Matthew 3:la we find, "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching." In Jonah 3:2 Jonah was admonished to preach to Nineveh the preaching that God bade him to preach. Acts 8:4 says, "Therefore they that are scattered abroad went every where preaching the Word." In Acts 14:1 we find that they "so spake" that multitudes believed. Oh, how we need some "so-speakers!" Preaching is exactly that. It is "so-speaking."
The most important hour of the week in a nation is the hour when God's men approach the pulpit. Several years ago the mayor of our city called our offices. Our receptionist answered the phone, whereupon the mayor asked if he could speak with Jack. Our receptionist replied that there was no one here who answered to the name Jack. The mayor told her that there was such a person there, and that he was the pastor, and he said, "Let me talk to Jack!"
Our receptionist said, "Your honor; we have nobody here who answers to that name. We have a Brother Hyles, we have a Preacher Hyles, we have a Pastor Hyles, we have a Dr. Hyles, but no one answers to the name Jack."
The mayor told her that he wanted her to know that he was the mayor. She replied that she wanted him to know that she was the receptionist and that she would connect him to my office if he would call me the proper title! Finally he yielded and she put the call through. She was not being stubborn; she was simply giving to the preacher his proper position and to preaching its proper place!
Years ago I was on an airplane flying to Denver; Colorado. I sat down beside a man who appeared to be a businessman. He had on a very beautiful navy blue suit and was very neatly dressed. We talked for some time before we introduced ourselves by name. I finally asked him what business he pursued. He replied that he was a chemical engineer. He then asked me, "Do you know anything about chemistry?"
I replied, "Yes, I know a little." (I did know a little. I knew that H2O was water; that AU was gold, and that I dropped chemistry in college for the safety of the student body!) Re informed me that he was so impressed that a layman was knowledgeable about chemistry I assured him that I did know a little-a little is exactly what I knew! He called off a long formula and said, "What do you think about that?"
I replied, "I like the good in that formula, but I am concerned about the bad."
He said, "Put her there! That is exactly how I feel. I am so refreshed to know that you know a little about chemistry." He then called off another formula that made the other look very simple.. He said, "What do you think about that one?"
I said, "Well, I feel that we should not make an opinion on that one until we are sure and that a person should not make a hasty decision."
Again, he said, "Put her there! That's exactly how I feel. How refreshing it is to meet someone who is a layman who knows something about chemistry!"
Then he asked me the $64,000 question: "What is your business?" he asked.
I suddenly replied, "I am an ambassador."
He sat up in his seat and said, "Sir; do you mean that you are a real, live ambassador?"
I said, "That's exactly right."
He said, "I've never met an ambassador before. May I shake your hand?"
I said, "You certainly may" After we had shaken hands, he said, "Sir, let's get this straight. You mean your citizenship is in another country, and you represent a king here in America?" Well, praise God, that's exactly what I've been doing for years, so I said, "Yes, sir. My citizenship is in another country, and I represent a King in America!" He said, "Sir; could I ask you, what country and what king?" I replied that the country was Heaven and that the King was Jesus! He smiled and in fifteen minutes he too was an ambassador and a citizen of my country.
Years ago I read a famous Southern preacher's sermon entitled, "I Magnify Mine Office." How important it is to magnify the office of a preacher!
Preaching is teaching with a tear in the eye. Preaching is truth on fire. Preaching is the Word of God in the hand, the fire of God in the heart and the zeal of God in the soul. Preaching is the gift of God wrapped in an excited voice. Preaching is the moral conscience of a nation. Preaching is the soul of the church. Preaching is the throne room of society. Preaching is the scepter and crown of the preacher. Prea ching is the moral level of the succeeding generation. It was preaching that originally built our secular colleges. It was preaching that originally built our public school system. It was preaching that originally established our law system, and in the early days of our country, a degree in theology was a prerequisite to a law degree. Every great denomination was founded on preaching. It was John Wesley who said, "I just set myself on fire and folks come to watch me as I burn."
Sam Jones, the famous Methodist evangelist, went to a workers' conference one day with a friend. As they rode their horses home, Sam Jones looked to his friend and said, "I learned something today"
His friend asked what he had learned, whereupon Sam Jones replied, "I learned that my pulpit is my throne, and I am a king." Richard Baxter said, "I preached as never sure to preach aga in, as a dying man to dying men.
John Hall said, "A strong and faithful pulpit is the safeguard to a nation's life."
Thomas Betterton said, "Actors speak of things imaginary as if they were real; preachers speak of things real as if they were imaginary"
Philip Brooks said, "Preaching is truth delivered through personality. Preaching is personal counseling on a group scale."
Hugh Latimer said, "Preaching is the delivering of meat, not strawberries."
John Newton said, "Preaching is breaking the hard heart and healing the broken one.
William R. Nicoll said, "Of all vocations, the Christian ministry is the most sacred, the most exacting and the most humbling."
Richard Whitely said, 'Preach not because you have to say something but because you have something to say"
Abraham Lincoln said, 'When I hear a man preaching, I like to see him act as if he were figh ting bees."
Preaching is the answer. Let nothing take its place. Let no concert be given at preaching time. Let no cantata be given at preaching time. Let no movie substitute for the preaching of the Gospel. Let no vespers take the place of preaching. Let no play or dramatical presentation be given at preaching time. Preaching is the loftiest of the professions and the greatest of the arts.
Preaching is truth set on fire. Preaching is demolition of error. Preaching is doubt's healing balm. Preaching is the Holy Spirit's amplifier. Preaching is the Saviour's projector. Preaching is fact on fire and truth aflame. Preaching is worship's entree. Preaching is the adornment of the Bible. Preaching is the power of God unto salvation. Preaching is revival's forerunner. Preaching is the church's heart. Preaching is doctrine clothed in excitement. Preaching is love's smile. Preaching is sin's gre atest adversary. Preaching is frustration's funeral. Preaching is doubt's demise. Preaching is fear's failure. Preaching is depression's death. Preaching is disappointment's decline. Preaching is faith's food. Preaching is profundity delivered in simplicity. Preaching was the first thing done by the Mayflower pilgrims. Preaching is the mender of broken relationships. Preaching is the healer of broken hearts. Preaching is the revival of broken dreams. Preaching is Hell's greatest enemy Preaching is the sinner's best friend. Preaching is the saint's dinner. Preaching is genius with a halo. Preaching is fire in the pulpit that melts the ice in the pew.
Preaching saved Nineveh, ignited Pentecost and turned the Judean wilderness into a Baptist revival.
When the man of God approaches the pulpit, let angels stop flying, let Heaven's hosannas hush, let adults hearken and children listen, let young people be alert, let E. F Hutton pay attention, let Heaven respond, let Hell tremble, let ushers sit down and listen, let the church wait in holy expectation, let all eternity tremble, let Satan and his angels be anointed with fear!
Oh, how I love preaching! I have preached on street corners. I have preached in jail houses. I have preached in taverns. I have preached in brush arbors. I have preached in tents. I have preached from the back of pick-up trucks. I have preached in city parks. I have preached in barber shops. I have preached in living rooms. I have preached on vacant lots. I have preached in school rooms. I have preached in city auditoriums. I have preached in coliseums. I have preached in football stadiums. I have preached in gymnasiums. I have preached in opera houses. I have preached in many of our states, including Hawaii and Alaska. I have preached in Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Jerusalem, Egypt, Japan, St. Thomas, Cyprus, Lebanon, Germany, Jordan and other countries around the world. Over 42,500 times I have stood and pro- cla imed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is nothing like it! Thank God for preaching, and thank God for making me a preacher!
Years ago I was preaching in the city of Wichita, Kansas, at a convention. The convention was held in a beautiful church auditorium, but the preaching pulpit was over in a comer, and there was another pulpit in the other corner of the platform. I stood in the corner and tried to preach, but I simply could not do it. I had no other recourse. I just lifted up the pulpit and carried it to the middle of the platform and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I simply cannot preach when preaching is put in the corner. I must preach when preaching is the center and the focal point of the service." Hallelujah for preaching!
The Pentagon needs to be improved, but the hope of this nation does not rest in the Pentagon. The White House needs to be improved, but the hope o f this nation does not rest in the White House. God knows the Supreme Court could use a world of improvement, but the hope of this nation does not rest in the Supreme Court. Congress needs improving, but the hope of this nation does not nest in the Congress. Our city halls need cleaning up, but the hope of this nation does not rest in the city halls. The United Nations General Assembly could use some housecleaning, but the hope of this country and this world does not rest in the halls of the United Nations. It was preaching that saved Scotland under John Knox. It was preaching that spared England under Whitefield, Wesley and Spurgeon. It was preaching that spared America under Moody and Sunday, and it is preaching that will save America again if she is ever saved. I Corinthians 1:21b, "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." It was preaching that inspired Pentecost. It was preaching that saved Nineveh. May God take us back to old-fashioned, Spirit-filled, Christ-honoring, sin-hating, soul-winning, Bible preaching! It is the hope of the church! It is the hope of the nation! It is the hope of the world!