7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place.
8 So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.
I almost have to chuckle when people are talking about long books and they mention Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” as the prime example of a huge and complex book. It is true that, among novels, Tolstoy’s masterpiece is perhaps the best-known huge volume, but there are other works that are much longer – but most people would not compare JRR Tolkien’s or Melanie Rawn’s fantasy novels to Tolstoy’s amazing historical fiction. However, next to the Holy Bible, “War and Peace” is like a children’s book.
Besides being a very long book (a little over a thousand pages), the Bible is also terribly complex. Written through the hand of forty different authors over the course of about 1300 years, the Bible’s sixty-six books comprise one of the most complex religious texts in existence. In case you think you’ve read it cover-to-cover and therefore understand it all, consider that great theologians and preachers like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Spurgeon each produced thousands of pages just writing ABOUT the Bible. And even today people still debate what the whole book means. That is why it is so important to have teachers who will guide us into the Bible. This is, after all, God’s Word.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In today’s verses from the book of Nehemiah, the Scriptures are finally being read aloud to a waiting and attentive crowd. A remnant of the Jews came home from Babylon, rebuilt the city wall in just fifty-two days, and then they were hungry for some word from the God they worship. Ezra read aloud from the scrolls handed down from Moses, and then a group of priests and Levites (the Jewish equivalent of deacons) went among the people and “helped them to understand.” You see, it’s not just enough to read God’s Word, nor even to be able to quote it at a moment’s notice. We have to UNDERSTAND the Bible, we have to be able to apply it and see how God’s Word fits into our lives – or, more to the point, how our lives ought to fit with God’s Word.
Because the priests and Levites could not follow all the people around every day to guide them in their daily lives, it was very important that the people get the correct sense of God’s Word right away, and not just leave the square in wonder and confusion over what they’d heard. So the priests and Levites split up and spoke to the people in smaller groups, no doubt answering questions and speaking God’s Word with authority, edifying their listeners wherever they went in the square. By the end of the day, everyone there understood what had been said.
And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.
Yes, we should read our Bibles every day, but we should not rely on ourselves to understand this large and complex book. There are subtleties and connections throughout Scripture that many of us might never see on our own. There are deeper meanings in some places, and straightforward instructions in other places, both equally important to know and understand.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul points out why it is so important to have teachers among us:
Ephesians 4:11-16 (NIV)
11 It was he [God] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
You see, we are not ALL meant to teach, but we are all meant to LEARN. We are to grow as a body, to mature and understand more of what is the will of God in Christ Jesus. So we should seek out capable teachers, and test their words against Scripture itself, relying on the teachings and traditions of our forefathers even as we turn to the Bible itself as the final authority. We should not rely solely on the teachings of one man but on the teachings of our One God. We should listen attentively and allow His ministers to share His wisdom and His promises with us. We should turn to Spirit-filled teachers and pastors to “read distinctly from the book.”
So as often as you can, seek out wisdom from a pastor, preacher, or teacher of the Word. Devotionals are nice, because they get us thinking about God’s Word. But a capable pastor will take you beyond a “thought for the day” into “thoughts for a lifetime.” Seek instruction and be attentive. Let us all stand up in the square before the Water Gate of Jerusalem, listen to the Word of God, and allow ourselves to be taught. Let us open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, so He can inscribed God’s Word upon our hearts through the teachers, evangelists, and prophets He has sent among us. Then one day we can “rejoice greatly” that we understand the Word of God.
O Father of all wisdom, my Savior, Rock, Redeemer, Almighty God! Thank You for Your Holy Word, and thank You for the teachers You have put among us to guide us into Your truths. I personally thank you for the pastors who have taught me and continue to teach me. Let me always be humble and seek instruction in Your Word, Lord God. Help me to understand Your truths, Your judgments, Your promises, and Your great mercies. Let me both weep and rejoice at Your salvation. Amen.