1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads.
2 Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.
3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God.
When the Jews returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity, many of their festivals and rituals had been forgotten. After rebuilding the city wall and gathering to hear the Word of God, the priests then found it was time for the people to observe the Festival of Tabernacles – “Sukkot” in the Hebrew language. So the remnant of the Jews spent a whole week dwelling in temporary shelters outside their homes, and they continued to listen to the Word of God. On the eighth day, they gathered once again and listened to the Book of the Law – the “Torah” – and then spent “one-fourth of the day” confessing their sins and worshipping the LORD their God.
Have we that kind of faith, to live outside our homes for a week and then spend the eighth day listening to the Word of God and confessing and worshiping? Do we realize that we are but sojourners here, just passing through on the way to our eternal fates?
2 Corinthians 5:1
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
The remnant of the Jews knew that very well, having just returned home to a city that needed rebuilding. The great stone walls had been destroyed, and yet God still favored His children. The homes had been abandoned, and yet God’s covenant remained. The fields and vineyards were overgrown with weeds, and yet God was still faithful. The temple had been burned to the ground, and yet God brought His people back to that place to rebuild it. Cities and farms are temporary, but our relationship with God the Father is eternal. The festival called “Sukkot” reminded the Jews that their homes might be taken from them at any time, but that their God would always be with them.
The Jews in Jerusalem during Nehemiah’s time were not just returning to rebuild walls and homes, they were returning to rebuild their faith. You see, it had been their lack of faith that had caused them to lose their inheritance. It was their lack of repentance that sent them into captivity. And so, to show their faith, they were more than happy to live in tents for a week, and they were quite willing to stand for half a day listening to God’s Word and confessing their sins and worshiping the Lord. Eight days with God? A mere pittance compared with seventy years as slaves.
When Jesus was at the height of His ministry on earth, the people would follow Him for days, leaving their homes and jobs behind in their passion for what He had to give.
1 In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them,
2 “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat.
3 “And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.”
Three days the people had continued with Jesus, listening, learning, being healed, and certainly some confessing sins and worshiping God. They wandered with Jesus, even to the point of having nothing to eat! Their homes were temporary, their lives put on hold, because they understood that what mattered was their eternal relationship with the Lord their God. What a time that must have been: four thousand people gathering on the hills of Judea and Galilee to listen to the Word of God! Travelers, sojourners, not even living in tents, and yet assured that their God would never leave them nor forsake them.
When times are bad and we realize the ephemeral nature of our lives, our jobs, our homes, then that is when we need to understand that God is never far from us. He knows our every problem, holds our tears in the palm of His hand, and He wants us to know that He is still in control. All our lives we live in temporary places. Not even the stones of the mountains can resist the wear of wind and storm! But God’s love for us is eternal, His faith never-ending, and His covenant unbreakable. God never promised we would live in the same home, have the same job, raise our kids in the same town forever. God’s promise to us was salvation, eternal life through Christ Jesus, His Son. And the only requirements are repentance and faith. “Repent, and believe in the gospel,” Jesus said in His first sermon. (Mark 1:15)
When we consider the temporary nature of our lives and the eternity we shall spend with God, one-fourth of a day seems a tiny time to spend in repentance and worship. A few hours of listening to the Word of God seems a pittance compared to following Jesus for three full days. What do we have that God has not given us?
“Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts.
One-quarter of a day seems so very little when the God who holds time in His hands loves us so abundantly every hour of every day. Would it be so much to ask that we give Him back some of the time He has given to us?
Father God, our Healer, our Deliverer, our Protector, we thank You for the lives You have given us. Your word reminds us that we are but sojourners here, that even the troubles of this life are temporary, and that all things work for the good for those of us You have called into faith. Please accept this time I give to You, although it is so small. Lead me to repentance and teach me to give You more of what was never mine to begin with. You truly deserve all that I have. Amen.