Teach Your ChildrenMay 23, 2012 - 5:00 am
“The Levites . . . instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.” — Nehemiah 8:7-8
With the success of Nehemiah’s persistent campaign to rebuild Jerusalem and return the exiled Jews to their ancestral towns and villages in Israel, Ezra the Scribe – along with his fellow priests, Levites, and Nehemiah himself – embarked on a companion project: the renewal of Israel’s spiritual health through studying Scripture.
This national revival commenced with the public reading of the Books of Moses. In order to facilitate understanding of the Biblical text, Ezra arranged for the Levites to clarify the words’ meaning, thereby allowing each person present at the public reading to understand what was being read.
An ancient Talmudic interpretation explains the various clauses in Nehemiah 8:8 – which describes the Levites’ efforts to explain the Biblical text – as referring to the way in which the Torah is studied and read even today.
In other words, Ezra and his companions did not aid the Jewish people in understanding the Bible merely on a one-time basis. Instead, they took the opportunity of widespread interest in the Holy Scripture to develop a method for understanding and studying the Bible that would stand the test of time. For they knew that the divine values inherent in every word, every syllable, every letter of the biblical text are crucial for the existence of a moral society in any age, not just their own.
Our own generation has borne witness to an increase in accessibility to the text of the Bible the likes of which our ancestors could only have dreamed. The Bible has been translated into over two thousand languages; commentaries and other resources for understanding and discussing the Bible can be accessed on the Internet at the click of a button, or else in public libraries, or bookstores across the world. Never before in world history has it been easier for the average person to engage seriously with the Living Word of God.
We therefore have before us a mission – a momentous responsibility. If we wish to see the ethical heritage of the Bible preserved in the modern world – a world that so desperately needs it – we must renew our own commitment to reading, studying and living Scripture. We must resolve to be students, and perhaps even teachers of the Almighty’s Word.
As we do so, we become part of the ancient project that began with Ezra and Nehemiah themselves.