My husband’s parents gave him a precious gift this past Christmas. It is a family Bible that has been passed down through four generations. A hand-written note tucked in the front of this fourteen-pound, four-and-a-half inch thick heirloom states that his great-grandfather would pay $25.00 for the Bible. It is dated March 22, 1886. Twenty-five dollars in 1886 equates to $629 today. That is a substantial investment for a Bible. It’s a blessing to belong to a family that has valued the Word of God for so many generations.
The book of Nehemiah describes a similar value for the Word of God. Nehemiah and the Israelites finished rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem in an incredible fifty-two days after it laid in ruins for nearly a century and a half. Once it was completed and the exiles had returned to the city, they tended to some important business.
First on the agenda was gathering the people to read from the Book of the Law of Moses. This was the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Nehemiah chapter 8 tells us the men, women and children stood before the priest, Ezra, as he read aloud “from daybreak till noon…And all the people listened attentively” (8:3).
Did you catch that? Men, women and children stood and listened for five or six hours while God’s Word was read aloud to them. At the conclusion “Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen!’ Amen!’” (8:6).
I looked up the definition of “Amen” in my Webster’s Dictionary. It is a Hebrew word “used to express solemn ratification or hearty approval.” This is amazing considering that “all the people had been weeping as they listened to the word of the Law” (8:9b). Instead of being defensive or indignant when they learned how far they had strayed from God’s Word, their hearts broke with remorse. They didn’t try to make excuses or rationalize their failure to follow it, they sought to make things right. How refreshing that response seems in comparison with people who want to ignore the parts of the Bible they find convicting, inconvenient or outdated.
Kelly Minter describes the Israelite listeners this way: “The Lord had given His Word to them, and it was far from obsolete or impractical to their daily lives…The people were deeply aware that they were to live every moment of their lives by God’s words…they recognized that ordinary life was to be inspired and directed by the rule and reign of God” (Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break, p.103).
What was true for the Israelites returning to Jerusalem is still true for us today. We need God’s Word to inform our lives and the choices we make daily. We need to trust that His Word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our paths, as Psalm 119:105 describes it.
The Bible is not a list of rules to read once and then put on the shelf as a reference book. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Bible is not just words on a page; it is living and active. When we engage it and apply it to our lives, it changes us. It changes our attitudes, our desires, our relationships and the things we value. It is a guide for every aspect of daily living. It is our solid foundation and the plumb line that keeps us aligned with Truth.
I’ve begun to notice a clear difference between the lives of people who are actively engaging God’s Word and people who simply embrace the Christian lifestyle and its values. People who spend time in the Bible have a passion and a sense of purpose in what they do. They serve others out of gratitude to God, not as an obligation. They grapple with hard truths and have teachable spirits. They are hungry to know more about God and how He’s calling them to live. They don’t follow rules and checklists–they abide with Jesus and let the Holy Spirit guide them. Their lives are not safe and predictable. They trust God when things get messy and complicated. They have too much integrity to worry about whether or not they are “showing well.” They are profoundly aware that they are sinners only saved by Gods’ grace. Their resulting gratitude causes them to give their lives for God’s Kingdom purposes.
For the Israelites in Nehemiah’s time, living out the Word of God meant they began observing festivals that had been forgotten for many years. “They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast” (8:14). They were obeying God’s command to celebrate the Lord’s Feast of Tabernacles. While it might not have been convenient to build and live in temporary shelters for seven days, the purpose of the feast was to remind the people in each generation that God brought them out of Egypt. (You can read the specifics in Leviticus 23:40-43).
God knows people are prone to forget Him, so observing different festivals provided tangible reminders of His faithfulness at regular intervals. Maybe part of the reason the people wept when they heard Ezra read the law is that they realized the many blessings they’d missed. The generations before them had failed to obey God’s command given through Moses:
“These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:1-8).
Today we are not exempt from this command to marinate in God’s Word and impress it upon the younger generations. Whether we are parents, grandparents, or have never had kids, there are younger people around who need to know the Word of God. We can do this as youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, or volunteers in the nursery. We can be a safe haven for kids in our neighborhoods or godly volunteers in public or Christian schools. We can mentor at-risk kids or lead at Vacation Bible School. We can open our homes to foster children or even adopt a child. We can sponsor kids through Missions organizations and send them letters reminding them of God’s love, faithfulness and provision.
Impressing God’s Word on children starts first and foremost at home. Here are some ideas for incorporating Biblical influence into your home, for the sake of your own kids and any others that might walk through the door.
-Listen to Christ-centered stories in the car and at home instead of only watching shows or playing video games. Focus on the Family has great radio dramas such as “Adventures in Odyssey.” The Vision Forum also has Biblically-based audio dramas such as “The Adventures of Jonathan Park.”
-Listen to Christian music at home and in the car (Try KLOVE, which is nation wide on FM radio, or The Message on satellite radio)
-Try having family meetings weekly. Use the time to read through a portion of the Bible, share prayer requests and pray together as a family.
-Read a devotional with your kids as they eat breakfast in the morning or at night before bed (the student version of Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling is a current favorite for us)
-Read Christian-themed books aloud to your kids or encourage them to read them to themselves. Janet and Geoff Benge have a great series of biographies called “Christian Heroes: Then & Now” (Christian books and magazine subscriptions are great gifts in an Easter basket for any age)
-Invite some friends to do a Christian parenting study with you (Chip Ingram’s DVD series “Effective Parenting in Defective World” is a great place to start)
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the suggestions above, take a deep breath. Resist the urge to feel like you have to do them all. Stop before you start to feel inadequate or critical of yourself. Don’t let yourself get legalistic by creating a checklist to complete. Start by praying and asking God to reveal one area where you can influence your own kids or others with God’s Word. Whatever you do, make sure it is authentic and done with pure motives. If you have a spouse, talk it over before jumping to action. Incorporating these things into your life might stretch you but they should still align with your character and not be forced on your family in a way that will turn them off. Pray for their hearts before you announce implementation of a great new plan to get them into God’s Word more! Do what blesses you and your family, not what feels like a burden. If you’re already actively doing something that impacts kids with the Bible, please post a comment to give other readers ideas.
Click on the link below to hear Matt Maher’s catchy song “And All the People Said Amen.” Although it’s inspired by 1 Chronicles 16:36, the sentiment is quite similar to Nehemiah 8.