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…They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. Neh. 8:1-3; 8
In modern culture, we are so sensitive to the laws of learning. We realize that modern people have short attention spans, that they respond better visually, and that they retain information in which they participate as a learner. With this in mind, this passage in Nehemiah seems to us like a strange tongue. Can you imagine gathering together for about 6 hours straight listening to a reading of the Law of Moses (Genesis – Deuteronomy) with exposition? This would be considered today to be at best, dry, tedious, and boring; at worst down right torturous.
As foreign as this may seem to us, there are noteworthy features in this passage that certainly have relevance to modern hearers. First, observe who attended this gathering. Present were “men, women, and those who could understand.” This seems to imply that the people were gathered in families, including older children who could understand the proceedings. There is something Biblical to exposing children to the truth of Scripture, more than the basic “Bible story” fare with which we usually entertain them.
Secondly, note that the people were gathered out of doors. Granted they had no large auditorium to hold a mass of people, so their options were few. It strikes one as odd that today, with modern, attractive, and comfortable buildings it is difficult to get people to come unless there is some attraction. Who would still come if we met outside each Sunday?
Thirdly, they assembled to hear the Law expounded. This was the pure teaching of God’s Word. There was no Praise Team, offertory, power point, choir, etc., all those elements that many think are absolute essentials to worship. In fact, the result was closer to what we might call worship than anything most of us have experienced. The people “lifted their hands” (Neh. 8:6), shouted “Amen” (6), “worshipped” (6), and “wept” (9).
The modern church has done everything imaginable to manufacture genuine worship – from the Ladies’ Ensembles and Gospel Quartets of the 40’s and 50’s to modern contemporary Praise bands – yet we cannot make it happen. So what’s wrong with following an inspired example? Maybe we should give it a try.