Nehemiah was a man on a mission. He had come to Jerusalem to lead his countrymen to rebuild the walls of the city. The task seemed impossible and the opposition was relentless — but with good leadership and (more importantly) by God’s grace, they did it! In just 52 days, in the heat of summer, by hand (no power tools or heavy equipment), Nehemiah and the people completed 1.5 miles of wall, 9 feet thick, and ten gates! Even their enemies had to admit that it was a “God-thing” (see 6:16)!
But the work was not over. The walls of the city were not the only things in need of repair; the people within the walls were also broken and in need of spiritual renovation. Nehemiah used his administrative skills to lead the rebuilding of the walls, but now Jerusalem needed someone skilled in teaching the Word of God to lead the rebuilding of broken lives. That man was Ezra.
Ezra had returned to Jerusalem thirteen years before Nehemiah, and he was probably a much older man. He was an anointed teacher of the Word (see Ezra 7:6-10). All the people of Judah gathered inside the newly constructed walls at the Water Gate on the southeast side of the city. A platform had been built for the occasion, perhaps between the two towers on either side of the gate, so that all the people could see the Book in Ezra’s hands and hear as he read aloud from it. The people knew the Lord had been at work among them, and when Ezra opened the Scriptures they were ready to listen (v.3). They stood up, lifted their hands, and shouted their affirmation (v.5-6). We can learn something from their eagerness to hear God’s Word.
As Ezra read “The Law” (the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible) he paused throughout for the teachers with him to explain and make application out in the congregation (v.7-8). As the Word exposed their sins and shortcomings, the people began to cry and to repent. They were making the connection between broken walls and broken faith. As a wise teacher Ezra knew that total spiritual renewal and thorough repentance was going to be a process for these people. There would be time for the deeper work of revival later (v.18), but it was important for the people to celebrate what God had done so far. They had exercised their faith, they had worked hard, they had seen God do amazing things — and they were experiencing the unique, invigorating joy that comes from joining God in His work (v.10).
You can experience that kind of joy, too, when you (in the words of William Carey) “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”