The Powerful Word of God

September 6, 2020 ()

Bible Text: Nehemiah 8 |

The Powerful Word of God | Nehemiah 8
Phil Krause | September 6, 2020

How would you describe your spiritual life now? Is your heart a picture of dry, cracked ground or lush, verdant growth? I think most of us would say we’re probably somewhere between those two extremes, but even in the worst case scenario, today we’re going to see how God’s word in the hands of God’s Spirit is powerful to bring about a beautiful and lasting change in your heart.

Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Nehemiah 8. The book of Nehemiah is in the Old Testament; it’s one of the smaller books in between Chronicles and the Psalms, Job. That’ll give you an idea of where it falls. Nehemiah 8, and let me set the scene as you’re turning there.

The Jewish people had been deported to Babylon. Jerusalem had been destroyed. They had spent 70 years in captivity, but God had promised that they would return. Then, during that time, Babylon fell to the Persians and, almost immediately, within that year, the new king, Cyrus, began to allow the Jews to go back to their homeland.

Now, it didn’t happen all at once. The exiles returned in some waves of people. First, a guy named Zerubbabel brought back the first wave of people, and they started working on rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Some decades later, under King Artaxerxes, Ezra the priest and scribe brought a group back to continue work on rebuilding the temple. They had some legal hassles, the work stopped for awhile, then they received permission from the king and kept working on the temple.

Then, some 13 or 14 years after that, the third wave of people came, and that was Nehemiah and a bunch of workers. He had been the king’s cupbearer; he was given leave to oversee the rebuilding of the wall. So through the Lord’s enabling and through Nehemiah’s really excellent leadership, and despite threats from the local unfriendly people, the wall was repaired, and it only took 52 days. The book of Nehemiah says the people had “set their minds to work,” or something like that. They had set themselves about the task of rebuilding the wall.

The year was about 445 B.C. That brings us to Nehemiah 8, and this morning as I read this passage I’m going to ask you to do what we’re going to read the people did when God’s word was read in this passage. So, if you’re physically able, would you stand again and hear now the word of the Lord, Nehemiah 8:1.

“And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

“And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.’ And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

“On the second day the heads of fathers' houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. And they found it written in the Law that the Lord had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, ‘Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.’ So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua [Joshua] the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.”

This is God’s word. You may be seated.

Today I’d like us to consider three things in this passage, along with some lessons that we can learn from them. We’re going to look at: the People, the Leaders, and the Word of God.

I. The People

First of all, the people. What did the people do?

(1) Well, first we see in verses 1-2 that they gathered, they assembled. Verse 2 says it was on the first day of the seventh month. According to Leviticus 3, the first day of the seventh month was the Feast of Trumpets, when God instructed them, “You shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the Lord.”

Notice, this passage also says that they gathered “as one man.” This crowd was single-minded and unified in its purpose. Now, when I say a crowd, you need to think massive crowd, okay? It was certainly in the tens of thousands. Some commentators estimate that it could have been as many as 30-60,000 people gathered there. The ability to speak to that many is astounding, and all the logistics involved. We’re talking a good-sized football stadium, or I think the LA Dodgers stadium in Los Angeles seats 56,000. So, this is a large, large crowd. But they gathered.

What about you and me? Do we make it a point to gather with God’s people on a regular basis, whether it’s in a church service or small group or even just an informal prayer gathering, or something like that—youth group? Hebrews 10 encourages us not to neglect meeting together. So, I’ll say it again, thank you for being here today. If you’re joining us online, thank you for joining us online. This gathering is a privilege we should never, ever take for granted. Let’s make it a habit.

(2) Next we see that the people sought out God’s word. The Bible says they specifically asked Ezra to bring the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. Ah! So now we see what’s driving them in their single-mindedness, their unity that it’s talking about. These people were hungry! They’re thirsty! They’re saying, “Something is missing from my life, and I think God’s word is going to address that.”

Keep in mind, the last real sweeping revival that had been through the land of Israel happened during the reign of King Josiah, which was 200 years before this. So, certainly for all the people there, this was a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience for them. They had never had a gathering like this before. They wanted to hear from God because they wanted to know God.

Perhaps the words from Psalms like Psalm 63 were resonating in their hearts, where David said, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” These people longed to hear from God.

So we should ask ourselves, “What do I long for? For whom do I thirst?” As C.S. Lewis said it so well, “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud-pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” I would add, distracted.

(3) Now, let’s look at how the people responded. First, the text shows us several ways the people responded: in physical ways. It says they stood respectfully when God’s word was read. This shows that their attitude towards the Law of God was one of reverence and awe. Secondly, they said “Amen” aloud. This was a way of expressing their agreement with God, with his word, and even an attitude of, “Lord, may it be true in my life.”

There was another physical response: the lifting of their hands, perhaps the symbolizing the reception of God’s word or their surrender to him. I’ll be honest with you, just for me personality-wise and my background, and maybe it’s pride in my heart, I don’t know—this one is hard for me in a congregational setting, to actually lift my hands in worship, but it’s biblical. It’s all through the Bible! They lifted their hands. So there’s nothing wrong with lifting your hands.

Bowing, another evidence of their physical response to God; they bowed with their faces to the ground. This is a posture of humility and submission. They were recognizing the authority of God and his word.

Not only did the people respond physically, they also responded cognitively. That’s with their minds. We see that they listened attentively. In verse 3 it says, “The ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” This was not just in one ear, out the other kind of listening. They were attentive in attending to God’s word and how it would apply to their lives.

I work with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth at Revive Our Hearts, and often, before a recording session, where she opens the Bible and she teaches to a group of women in a studio audience—pre-COVID days there were as many as 70 or 80 ladies in a room, and she would be teaching God’s word to them—but she would always coach them like this. Before the recording started, she would say, “I like to see Yes faces. It shows me that you’re listening with intentionality, you’re listening attentively.”

So, think about that next time you hear Pastor Brian up here or you’re listening to anyone speak. It’s an encouragement to the person who’s there to see that you’re actually listening and you’re actually engaged with what’s going on. This was a cognitive way, that they were listening intently. That might be an encouragement to Pastor Brian. Put on a “Yes face.”

Another evidence that people’s minds were engaged: it says they understood. Now, this is kind of a logical extension of listening attentively, right? You actually do get some things. Keep in mind, many of these people had arrived not so long ago from somewhere else in the Persian kingdom, so as the word of God is being read, they might have had some cultural barriers to overcome, maybe even language barriers. Some of them might not have spoken Hebrew as well or understood what was going on. So understanding, even for them, took some work.

What a great example that is for us, right? It takes work! We have to work hard to understand God’s word sometimes. That means we have to ask questions, we have to look things up, we have to chew on things mentally. Why is it phrased that way? I wonder if the people, as they heard Deuteronomy 6 being read, did they think, “I need to love God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my might. What does that mean, and what is that going to look like in my life? How do I need to do a better job of that?” All these kinds of thoughts must have been going through their minds as they heard the Law read.

Notice, too, that it says they studied the Law. Verse 13, “The following day, the heads of father’s houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law.” See, they wanted to see for themselves. They were like the Bereans in Acts 17, where it says, “They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things [the teachings that Paul and Silas were bringing] were so.”

Listen, don’t believe everything you hear, okay? As Abraham Lincoln said, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet just because there’s a quote with a picture next to it,” right? You’ve seen the meme. No, study God’s word! It is the standard by which all other truth is measured.

So, we see the people responded physically, they responded cognitively or intellectually. They also responded emotionally. In this passage we see two very different emotions, right? We see that they wept, and we see that they rejoiced.

Why did they weep? Verse 9 tells us they wept “as they heard the words of the Law.” They were weeping over their sin. If you start listening intently and actually understanding what God’s word is telling you, you start realizing, “Whoa! God is way holier than I thought he was, and oh no, I am a lot more sinful than I thought I was!” That’s what was going on here.

We know from other passages in both Ezra and Nehemiah that some of them had taken foreign wives, something that was expressly forbidden in the Law of God, and others were practicing usury in their loans, and they were basically taking everything for away from others who were borrowing from them, and Nehemiah said, “This has to stop.” Anyway, the point is there were sins that they were living out and they were suddenly confronted with them by the word of God, and they wept.

Can I ask you, how long has it been since you’ve allowed your sin and your own heart to be searched by the word of God? How long has it been since that actually brought you to tears?

Now, there’s a place for that, but don’t stay there, right? Especially as a new covenant believer, your sorrow needs to be turned to joy. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The people here, it says, not only did they weep, they also rejoiced. Verse 12 says they rejoiced because they understood. The hard work of all this understanding that needed to happen was paying off. Verse 17, “There was very great rejoicing.” Again, we’ll talk more about this later.

So, we see the people responded physically, with their minds, they responded with their emotions, and then we see they responded with their wills, or volitionally. Their response involved direct choices that they made that affected their lives in some very specific ways.

For example, it says that they “ate and drank and shared portions with others.” This would have been in keeping with the rules related to the Feast of Trumpets. It was to be a time where you had a food offering, and the reason they needed to share portions with others is because they hadn’t necessarily come prepared to do this eating and drinking, so they actually shared with one another. That was a step of obedience for them.

Another immediate choice they made was that they obeyed by keeping the Feast of Booths, or some translations might call it the Feast of Tabernacles. This was like a national camping week. This is Labor Day weekend—anybody camping this weekend? Yes? Do you enjoy it? I know the kids always do. The point of God saying, “You need to have the Feast of Booths,” was so that they would remember that their fathers, coming out of Egypt, had actually had to live in tents for 40 years, right, as they wandered through the desert. That was meant to be a reminder for them.

But it said they were rejoicing. Camping can be fun, but they were doing it out of obedience to God, and their obedience was producing this great joy.

So, don’t believe the lie that obeying God is going to automatically mean your life is going to be sour and miserable. No! No! Obeying God brings joy. It says it over and over and over through the Scriptures: Joy comes from obedience.

We see that they also responded volitionally later in the book of Nehemiah. They made other choices to obey. They confessed sin, they forsook sin, they renewed their covenant with God. It was all part of their wills, their volitional response to God’s word.

So, to summarize: the people gathered, they sought out God’s word, and they responded very holistically—bodies, minds, will, emotions—all of these were affected by the word of God.

II. The Leaders

That’s what the people did. Now let’s look at the leaders. What did they do?

(1) Well, first we see that they were well prepared. Ezra himself had spent years preparing for moments just like this one. In Ezra 7 it tells us he was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses. What’s a scribe, you say? Well, a scribe was someone who, among other things I’m sure, they had to write out copies of God’s word, by hand. I mean, you couldn’t take it down to Kinkos, or whatever, to get copies made. No. I don’t know how long it took—not everyone even knew how to write or read in those days), but Ezra obviously did, and it took him—who knows? Weeks, months—to copy and check and recheck, make sure there were no errors in the writing.

I have a friend that I work with who is actually making his own handwritten copy of the Bible. He is copying down, word by word, verse by verse, different books of the Bible. I texted him last night to ask him about it; he said he writes for about 30 to 60 minutes each morning, which ends up being about 20 to 40 verses for him. He has nice little notebooks he puts them in and stuff. He expects that at that pace it’s going to take a total of about seven years to finish his copy of the whole Bible.

Well, maybe that’s something you’d like to try, too. Maybe you can be a scribe, like Ezra was. But Ezra did that for years in obscurity, writing it out, soaking his mind in the word of God, mulling over it. Then it tells us, too, that he was not only a scribe, but he was skilled in the Law of Moses. The hours he spent studying, the weeks, the months, the years, all combined to make him an expert of the Law. He knew God’s word inside and out.

But we see just a few verses later it wasn’t just head knowledge. Ezra 7:10 says, “He set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to do it, and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

You see, Ezra had the heart of a teacher. He longed to see the people obeying God, following him with all their hearts, and he practiced what he preached, too. This wasn’t just, “Oh, do as I say, not as I do.” No, he lived it out. He was not a hypocritical teacher. So, here’s a warning: beware of any spiritual leader who does not practice what he preaches, basically, who says one thing and does another. So Ezra himself was personally prepared.

But not just Ezra; all the leaders were prepared. We see this in the building of the platform from which Ezra read the word. You know, that took some forethought and planning, too, right, to build this platform. They didn’t have a nice PA system; he couldn’t turn on his little body pack and start talking. No; they had to come up with a way for 30-60,000 people to hear the word of God, and do it as clearly as possible. The pure logistics of pulling off a kind of gathering like this, it’s just mind-boggling. (Thankfully, they didn’t have any coronavirus social distancing restrictions in their day, so they were able to pull it off; they didn’t have to call it a peaceful protest or anything like that.) They had thought through all the necessary details, and it worked. By God’s grace, it worked.

(2) We see, too, that the leaders were a team. This was a team effort. Ezra had helpers. It wasn’t a one-man show here—and, just as an aside here, praise God for leaders like Pastor Brian. He doesn’t try to do it all himself. Even though he’s up here a lot in front, he’s still relying on the help of other staff, the other elders to do what he needs to do. By the way, you can be praying that God would raise up more leaders and more elders in this church to help.

(3) What else did the leaders do? The text says they read God’s word clearly. They did everything they could to make it as understandable as possible. I would assume that would mean careful enunciation, diction, maybe slowing down the pace of what they were reading, a slower delivery—all worked together to help the people who were listening attentively, as we’ve already seen.

Here’s another warning: Beware of the pastor who never reads from the word of God! Believe me, there are plenty of them out there. But praise God for your pastor, who does say, “Open your Bible,” or, “Here’s what God’s word says.”

(4) The leaders also worshipped the God of the word, verse 6: “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God.” Ezra led the people in worship. He understood that God’s word is not an end in and of itself. He wasn’t guilty of what I’ve heard called “bibliolatry.” He knew that the primary value of the word of God is that it leads us to know and worship the God of the word, right?

Here’s another warning for us: Beware the pastor who only gives facts about God’s word without leading you to worship the God of the word, the God who is revealed in the word. The Pharisees were great examples of that, right? They had all the facts just right.

In fact, you look when the magi came to King Herod and said, “Where is the one who is to be born King of the Jews?” Herod sent for the experts in the law, and they said, “Oh, well, he’s supposed to be born in Bethlehem of Judea,” so they knew the right answer, but did they go worship? No! No, they didn’t. Jesus had some pretty strong words to say to the Pharisees, who basically missed the relationship with God because they didn’t know him, even though they knew about him.

(5) So, we see in this chapter, too, that the leaders explained God’s word. Verse 8 says they “gave the sense” of what they were reading. Now, this is the purpose of preaching. Have you ever asked yourself, “Why do we structure a worship service the way we do?” I mean, okay, why couldn’t we just sing some songs, someone gets up and just reads a passage of Scripture, and we sing a few more songs, and we’re done?

Well, there would be value to that, for sure, but the truth of the matter is, just like the people in 445 B.C. in Jerusalem, we need help sometimes. We need help understanding and applying, and someone who is a skilled communicator and is able to bring God’s word to bear on our lives and to show us kind of the ins and outs of it is a huge value.

Here again, let me brag on Pastor Brian a little. He did not ask me to do this; in fact, if he were here he would probably be embarrassed by what I’m about to say, but folks, we have such a gift in Brian Hedges! He knows how to give us God’s word in digestible chunks, how to organize the thoughts clearly so that things come to life for us. Now, obviously it’s the Spirit of God working in us, too, but what a gift. I’ve often referred to him as “Michiana’s best-kept secret,” and part of me doesn’t want the whole world to—no, that’s selfish. But, the point is, Pastor Brian is a gift to us, and we don’t have to wait until—if that’s true, if you agree, then let him know. Let him know how much you appreciate him. You don’t have to wait until clergy appreciation month rolls around to write him a note or send an email or fix his car for him—whatever—mow his lawn. These are all ways you can say, “I appreciate you,” and I want to encourage you, and I know many of you have done that and do do that. So keep it up; that’s great.

(6) To recap here, the leaders read God’s word, they worshipped God, they led others in worship, they explained God’s word. Then we see that they directed and encouraged the people. Nehemiah, Ezra, and other leaders actually told the people not to be sad.

Now, at first you might think, “Wait a minute. I thought they were sad over their sin. Isn’t that a good thing?” Well, yes and no. Godly sorrow, the apostle Paul said, is an important ingredient of true repentance; we see that in 2 Corinthians 7. But there is such a thing as getting stuck in grief over sin and forgetting the joy God has given us, God is offering us.

That’s what Nehemiah and the leaders did here. They reminded the people, “Hey, this is a holy day. This is set aside for joyfully hearing from God. You don’t have to cry and be sad. The joy of the Lord will be your strength. Yes, taking the steps of obedience are going to be difficult and painful, but he’s worth it! He’s worth it! He’ll give you joy! He’ll strengthen you with his joy to take the steps you need to take.”

Guess what? It worked here too. The people did. They calmed down, they began rejoicing. The leaders helped them to see there was a lot to be joyful about.

Here’s another warning for us: Beware of leaders who only point out your sin but don’t point you to the source of true joy.

There’s an interesting aspect—before I finish talking about the leaders—there’s an interesting aspect here that I want to highlight. That is the fact that in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, both of them are types or pictures of Christ. In other words, even though they didn’t realize it at the time, as they’re living out their normal lives, but God had orchestrated things in such a way that their lives were actually foreshadowing Christ.

A guy named James Hamilton wrote about this in his book Exalting Jesus in Ezra and Nehemiah. I don’t have time to go into it in detail here, but let me just read a little thing he said. “Ezra was a man of the Word and prayer who was passionate for the purity of God’s people, seeking to hallow God’s name, to bring in God’s Kingdom and to do God’s will on earth as in heaven.” Does that sound familiar? Sounds like the Lord’s Prayer, doesn’t it?

Then he lists more examples. “In [Ezra] chapter 9, Ezra responded to the disobedience and rebellion of God’s people by weeping over Jerusalem, just as Jesus would weep over Jerusalem’s refusal to receive and welcome Him…” Hamilton goes on to say, “Nehemiah was like the One who would enter the Temple and cleanse it. We saw Nehemiah cleanse the Temple in Nehemiah 13. … Nehemiah initiated a renewal of the covenant, anticipating the One who would usher God’s people into a new covenant.” In the same way that the nations rage against the Lord (Psalm 2), we see that the nations were raging against Nehemiah. There was even a plot to kill him, just like there was a plot to kill Jesus. It goes one. There are a ton of fascinating parallels, beautiful ways that Ezra and Nehemiah were foreshadowing Christ.

In this passage today, in Nehemiah 8, we see Nehemiah and Ezra, the governor and the priest, bringing the word and turning hearts from grief to joy. That’s a picture of what Jesus does for us, isn’t it? He is the better governor, he’s the better priest, and he’s all about turning our shame and our sorrow into everlasting joy. Amen, and praise the Lord for that!

III. The Word of God

Now, we’ve seen what the people did and what the leaders did. Let’s look at what this passage teaches us about the word.

(1) First, God’s word elicits worship. We’ve already talked about this some, but the word of God is a means to an end. In his word, the Lord of the universe is revealing some of who he is. Why? So that we, his creatures, will glorify him.

(2) Second, we see that his word ends ignorance. That’s another way of saying it’s understandable, it’s clear. Theologians sometimes refer to this as the perspicuity of Scriptures. The word, God’s word, is perspicuous; it’s knowable, it’s clear. We don’t have to know some kind of secret code to decipher or unlock the secrets of the Bible. No, it’s perfectly capable of ending our doubts.

(3) Third, we see that the word exposes sin. We’ve already looked at the grief and sorrow the people experienced when they heard the words of Scripture. We find in the New Testament, as God’s word was completed, the revealed word, that the Law was never intended to do anything beyond exposing our sin.

Paul said in Romans 7, “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin, for I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” In Galatians 3 he refers to the law as a tutor or a schoolmarm of sorts that points us to our need for Christ.

Oh, there are plenty of hints throughout the Old Testament that something better was coming, but it wasn’t until Jesus actually came and instituted this new covenant in his blood and we realize he’s the fulfillment of everything they were talking about and all those hints were pointing to.

So, the word exposes sin.

(4) Then we see that the word encourages joyful obedience. You say, “Wait, I thought Nehemiah and the leaders encouraged the obedience.” Well, that’s true, they did, but where did they get that? From God’s word. They were reaching back to Leviticus 23, and they said, “This is supposed to be a celebratory day, the Feast of Trumpets,” so it was all spelled out for them already. That was still the word at work in them.

This concept of joyful obedience is all through the Bible, but here’s just one example as it’s tied to the word. Psalm 19:8 says, “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.”

(5) Next, we see that the word effects change. Isaiah 55—this is one of my favorite passages, right in the middle of the chapter, there are these verses: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven—” this is the voice of God speaking, through the prophet Isaiah. “As the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower [that’s the very early, beginning part of the process, right?] and bread to the eater…” That’s the very end of the process. From seed to food on your plate. “...so shall my word be,” says God, “that goes out from my mouth. It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” So, from beginning to end, God’s word is accomplishing what he sent it to do.

Elsewhere in the Bible, we see other kinds of metaphors for the word of God. Just quickly, listen to these. God compares his word to a sword (Hebrews 4, Ephesians 6), God compares his word to a mirror (James 1), God compares his word to a seed that reproduces (1 Peter 1), God compares his word to pure, nourishing milk (1 Peter 2), God compares his word to a lamp lighting our way, helping us avoid pitfalls along the path of life (that’s in Psalm 119), God compares his word to a consuming and a hammer that shatters the rock. So, if your heart feels hard, it needs to be confronted by that rock-shattering hammer of God’s word. It’s the powerful, the effective word of God.

So, let me ask you again, do you feel spiritually lethargic, uninterested in the things of God, bored, or even spiritually dead? Maybe it’s been awhile, or maybe it’s been a long time, since you’ve actually opened your Bible to read for yourself.

Maybe you feel like you’re in a spiritual desert, weary of working hard to please God, but for whatever reason it feels like he’s withholding his blessings and nothing’s growing. Or maybe you know the reason. Maybe there’s some kind of favorite sin that you have that is keeping you from intimacy with God or others. Would you be willing to let the powerful word of God do its work in your heart, in the hands of the Holy Spirit?

Could I challenge you to spend some time reading God’s word every day for the next 30 days? It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be an hour every day. But some intentional time reading and thinking about Scripture every day for the next 30 days. As we do, let’s approach God’s word with the same attitude that the people in Jerusalem that day, in Nehemiah’s and Ezra’s day, had, which was basically, “Lord, I want to listen attentively. What do you have for me? What are you saying to me?” Let’s allow the living, powerful, active word of God to do its work in us in the hands of his Spirit. Let’s pray.

Father, thank you. Thank you for giving us, revealing yourself to us in your word. We confess we often do take it for granted, we have not taken advantage of what you have for us in the Scriptures as much as we should, so help us to do better. But help us to value your word. It’s more to be desired, Psalm 19 says, than gold, fine gold, precious, precious, valuable gold. We want your word more than that. So help us to see the treasure of your word and help us to realize that it points us to Christ. Jesus, in you all God’s promises are yes and amen, and that is something that we don’t want to ever take for granted. So work your way in our hearts, we pray, and thank you again for your word. In the name of your Son, Jesus, we pray, Amen.