As Nehemiah’s great building program neared completion, two very significant things were done. Firstly Nehemiah ensures he got the right people in important roles. Not simply people he could trust and felt a degree of chemistry with, but people whom he knew to be full of integrity and devoted to God. “I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do” (7:2)
The second thing Nehemiah did, which was equally significant if not more so, was to return the people to God’s word. He chose a priest of exemption, Ezra, a gifted, godly communicator whom he knew could install priority for the law once again. He was known for his gift, hence the title ‘Ezra the teacher’ (8:4), and the effect was instantaneous and powerful; “He read it aloud from daybreak till noon...and all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law“. Chapter 8 pictures the scene well for us. As Ezra stands and opens the Law, the whole body of the people stand as one. As he reads there is discomfort, fidgeting, sniffling, as people begin to weep, realising they have not kept God’s word or honoured his Law.
In addition, Ezra runs specific workshops for heads of families, priests and Levites, in other words, the leaders (8:13). This get together was instrumental in returning Israel to their traditional festivals. To centre community once again around biblical behaviour and practice.
The significance of Ezra’s involvement cannot be overstated. He restored such a sense of obedience and celebration that we’re told, “From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this”. Ezra’s reading, unpacking and insistence on the Law became the catalyst to rebuilding in the spiritual sense what had been rebuilt in the physical sense.
The reality of our walk with God, as with our desire to accelerate his church, is that nothing of any significance or permanence will ever be built without an uncompromising adherence to God’s word. A return to scripture, to reading and installing it in to our hearts and minds, and in doing so we begin to build things that reflect and honour God. Nehemiah appointed the right people in choosing those gifted and devoted; and laid the right foundation in releasing Ezra to teach the people God’s Law.