9. When Revival ContinuesRelated Media
All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law…
What are characteristics of revival in worship?
In Nehemiah 3, we saw God revive the hearts of the people to start rebuilding the walls. They worked while mocked and attacked, and yet they still completed the wall in fifty-two days as seen in chapter 6.
In chapters 7-13, we see the continuation of this revival in the people. Previously, God had revived their hearts to rebuild ruins that had been there for over 140 years (586 BC-445 BC). But here in chapter 8, God revives, not just their hearts, but their worship.
This began in Nehemiah 7:1. After finishing the wall, the first thing Nehemiah did was establish gatekeepers, singers, and Levites. By establishing them, Nehemiah was showing the priority of worship. Even the gatekeepers had a role to play in worship, as all the Israelites and Gentiles would come to the city through the gates to worship the Lord. In fact, certain gates were specifically for worship like the Sheep Gate. It was there that the sacrificial sheep would be led through to be offered to God.
The implication of Nehemiah establishing gatekeepers, singers, and Levites is the fact that the Israelites were no longer worshiping or no longer worshiping as they should have been. Maybe in their trials and difficulties, they had forgotten or turned away from God. Therefore, their worship needed to be restored.
At times, we also have lost our worship in the midst of trials, in the midst of busyness, and sometimes in the midst of personal sin. Many of our churches and Christian communities are dying spiritually. The majority of our churches are decreasing in numbers and barely surviving. Many of them have a great number of older people but very few young people. The majority of our youth, when they get to college, fall away from the faith. In addition, the majority of our historically Christian universities have become secular.
The church is in a crisis. Many of our spiritual lives are in a state of crisis. How do we restore our worship? How can we experience revival?
In this text, we see characteristics of revival in worship as Israel is restored to the worshiping nation it was always meant to be. As we go through this study, we must ask ourselves this question, “Am I experiencing the characteristics of revival in my own personal worship and in my church?” Also, we should ask, “How can I as a leader help bring revival in my community?”
Big Question: What are characteristics of the revival in Israel? How can we begin to experience revival in our lives and in our church communities?
In Revival, God Restores Unity amongst the People of God
All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.
The first thing that we notice is how the people assembled as “one man.” There was no division amongst the people. We talked about this in Nehemiah 3 as Nehemiah motivated the people to work together to rebuild the wall. But even in chapter 3, they were not completely unified. We saw how some of the nobles would not submit to their supervisors (cf. 3:5). However, here they gathered as “one man.”
This is true of every great revival. When God revives the people of God, it spans gender, race, socio-economic status, and theological differences. The people of God come together to pray, to study the Word, and to serve together, and in the midst of this, God moves. This is exactly what David said about unity in Psalm 133:
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
Wherever people are unified, God blesses. How should we respond to this?
We must respond to this individually by forgiving anybody who has hurt us, especially in the body of Christ, and seeking reconciliation. Corporately as churches, we must seek to unify with other parts of Christ’s body so that the body of Christ can be more effective.
Where there is unity, there is God’s blessing. And where there is division, the enemy is in the midst (cf. Eph 4:26-27). Therefore, we must labor together to keep the unity of the Spirit (cf. Eph 4:3).
Application Question: How can the churches labor for unity both within their own local congregation and with other congregations? How should the church handle theological differences?
In Revival, God Restores Devoted Teachers of the Word of God to Leadership
All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law…The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 7
The next thing that we see is Ezra and the Levites teaching the law to the people. Ezra was called a scribe and a priest, as seen in Nehemiah 8:1-2. As a scribe, he meticulously copied the Scripture, and as a priest, he studied and taught it. Listen to what Ezra 7:10 said about him: “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.”
Ezra had devoted his life to studying, copying, and teaching the Scripture. After the second group of Jews returned to Israel from the exile, God had previously used Ezra to turn Israel back to the Word of God and repentance in the book of Ezra (chapters 9, 10). However, it is clear that the initial revival didn’t last, and God again called Ezra to help revive Israel.
Again, Ezra was not alone; thirteen helpers were on the platform with him (v. 4) who may have been priests.1 And then, another thirteen Levites taught the Scripture as well. Nehemiah 8:7 says this:
“The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—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
We see that these Levites were used in making the Scripture “clear and giving the meaning so that people could understand what was being read.” There is some dispute over what this means. The NASB translates it differently. It says, “translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.”
No doubt, many of the Jews while living in Babylon for over 140 years had lost their Hebrew language and were now speaking Aramaic.2 Therefore, the Levites might have had to translate the passages first into Aramaic and then explain the meaning. Also, it is good to remember that even ancient Hebrew probably went through many changes. At that point, it had been 1000 years since Moses wrote the law. Even if we studied the original KJV, which is only around 400 years old, we would see that there are many words we don’t use anymore. Therefore, the Levites might have had to explain archaic words, even to those who spoke Hebrew.
Whatever it means, we can assume there was some amount of translating. This might have been done in smaller groups led by the Levites after Ezra read to the entire congregation. But the part we will focus on is the “giving the meaning” so that people could understand.
Ezra and the Levites were called to teach the Word of God and to stir up the people’s love and affection for God’s Word. However, it must be noted that this is nothing new; this has happened in every revival. When God brings a revival, he raises up people who have been devoted to the studying and teaching of God’s Word.
God did the same thing with John the Baptist. He was raised by a priestly family in the wilderness, and, when God chose to turn Israel back to himself before the coming of the messiah, he called for a man who knew the Word and would preach it. He showed up in the Gospels preaching repentance and turning Israel back to God.
Was this not true of Joshua as well? Joshua was called to lead Israel in the conquering of the Canaanites. You would think that as a military general, he would need to focus his study on the doctrine of war or military tactics. But no, God called him to make his focus the Word, and, when he did that, he would prosper. Look at what God said:
Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
When God said, “Do not let the Book of the Law depart from your mouth,” he was calling Joshua not just to meditate but to teach. He was to meditate on it and teach the Word of God, and God would prosper him and make him successful. We are all called to be teachers of the Scripture in some form or another, as we make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20).
Hear what God said in 2 Chronicles 16:9: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”
He searches for people who are fully committed to him so he can show himself great on their behalf, show his strength in them. What does a person look like who is fully committed to him? They are people of his Word, like Joshua, like David, and like John the Baptist. He looks for people who are devoted to his Word so he can use them greatly for his kingdom.
When God looks for someone to revive the people of God, he finds someone who is devoted to the Word of God. Here God called Ezra and the Levites, who had been prepared in the quiet place of study, to bless and lead others.
When there is national revival, revival in a local church, or a community, it first starts with individuals. God uses those who have devoted themselves in the secret place to set people free from depression, worry, anxieties, and the bondage of habitual sins. He uses them to motivate others to seek his face. Like with Ezra and the Levites, God is always seeking faithful teachers to help stir up revival.
A Catalyst for Spiritual Decay
It should also be noted that decay in a community, a church or a nation will result from a lack of devoted teachers of God’s Word. Look at what Paul said about the end times:
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
2 Timothy 4:3
In the end times, probably, the majority of the church will have teachers who will not teach the Word. They will not teach sound doctrine, and therefore, the church will fall further away from God. We must be aware of this.
However, when God brings revival, he finds those who are devoted to the study and teaching of God’s Word and he uses them to turn others back to himself.
The Need for Persistence in Revival
Another aspect of this devotion is persistence. As mentioned previously, God had used Ezra to revive Israel earlier after the second return from exile; however, that revival must have quickly fizzled out. A weaker man would have become discouraged and given up. In fact, it must be noted that up to 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month in the United States.3 Many of them got burnt out, got discouraged, and eventually gave up.
However, Ezra had been both on the mountain top in revival and in the valley when there was rebellion. And yet, he was still faithful. We must have this type of resiliency and perseverance if we are going to see revival around us because there will be many discouragements.
Paul said this: “Do not grow weary in well doing for in due season, you will reap if you do not faint” (Galatians 6:10). Let us not give up or get discouraged when we teach people and they do not respond or they backslide. We must be faithful in seasons of plenty and in seasons of lack. God is the one who makes the seed grow (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6). We are just called to be faithful sowers of the seed.
Are you willing to devote yourself to the study and teaching of Scripture? This is a necessary aspect of revival. God looks for those who are devoted to the study and teaching of his Word, and he uses them mightily to revive his people.
Application Question: What is your daily discipline like in studying Scripture? In what ways is God calling you to be more faithful in your study? Why is persistence so important in bringing revival?
In Revival, God Renews Reverence for the Word of God
Observation Question: In what ways do we see the people’s reverence for the Word of God in Nehemiah 8?
The previous characteristic of revival had to do with the teachers; this one has to do with the people. Throughout this narrative, we see the great reverence that the people had for the Word of God. This is seen in many ways. Listen to Nehemiah 8:1-3:
all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
(1) We see the people’s great reverence in the fact that they approached Ezra to bring out the Book of the Law and teach it to them. It was also seen in how (2) they listened to the Word of God from “daybreak till noon.” This means that they listened to the Scripture being read and taught for about six hours. But more startling than that is the fact that it says (3) “all the people listened attentively to the Book of Law” while standing. Nehemiah 8:5 and 7 say this:
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up… The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.
Now for people who have served in teaching ministry, specifically that of the Word of God, this might be hard to believe. Most would say, “What? Are you kidding me? No, not possible. It’s hard to keep somebody’s attention for thirty minutes. You mean to tell me that these people listened attentively for six hours, while standing!”
This may seem like a shock but this is happening all over the world in places where there is revival. In places like China, it is not uncommon to hear stories of all day worship services with three to six hour sermons. In fact, during much of the Great Reformation, the sermons were at least one hour and usually longer.4
When there is revival happening, people tend to have a tremendous reverence for the Word of God. Later, we see this reverence in how they responded with weeping and rejoicing (v. 9, 12). They obeyed it, as they practiced the Feast of Booths (v. 14-17), and they came back every day for more (v. 18). These people reverenced the Word of God.
Erosion of the People of God
In the same way that we see reverence for the Word of God in revival, we also see a decrease in reverence for the Word of God when moral and spiritual decay has crept in. This is what you will typically see in churches around the world today, not this growing reverence, but a growing disdain. Again, listen to what Paul said about the preaching of the Word of God in the last days:
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
2 Timothy 4:2-4
Previously, we looked at these verses and considered the teachers, but now we will consider the congregations. Paul said a time will come (and it has been here a long time) when people will not stand “sound doctrine,” which can be translated “healthy doctrine.” They won’t want to hear it and so they will hire pastors and teachers who itch their ears and make them feel good. These pastors won’t talk about sin, they won’t talk about repentance, and they won’t talk about taking up one’s cross. But they will heap teaching upon the audience that will make them feel good. The pastors will do this because this is what the people want.
We see this not only in Paul’s warning to Timothy, but we see it in his teaching to the church of Thessalonica. Listen to what he said to them: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20).
This can also be translated “Do not despise prophecies.” Now when we hear the word prophecy, we tend to think of “foretelling”—someone telling the future. However, that is not fully correct. The majority of “prophecy” written by the prophets in the OT was “forthtelling,”—authoritatively preaching the Word of God and calling people back to following the law.
Seventy-five percent of prophecy in the Bible is forthtelling, preaching an authoritative word from God and calling the people to turn from sin. The prophets did this all the time, as they told Israel to stop worshiping idols, to stop partnering with the foreign nations, to stop abusing and neglecting the poor, and to practice the Sabbath.
In the same way, there is a tendency in the church to despise the prophetic preaching of God’s Word and when we do this we put out the “Spirit’s fire.” The Spirit can’t revive us if we despise or neglect his Word. The Spirit is the author of Scripture, and he works through it.
Sadly, we see what was forbidden in this text happening in most churches around the world. In many congregations when the sermon goes over thirty minutes, it incites great anger amongst the congregants. People commonly despise the preaching of the Word of God and, therefore, lose the Spirit’s power.
In a sporting event, when the game goes into overtime, it is an exciting thing. The crowd roars and people start high-fiving. But when the Word of God goes into overtime, people start fidgeting and some even get mad. There is something wrong with our worship when we don’t adore hearing and studying the Word of God.
During the Middle Ages (approximately 500 AD to 1500 AD), before the Reformation, the preaching of the Word of God was all but lost from the church. Charles Terpstra said this in his article “The Reformation: A Return to the Primacy of Preaching”:
Many of the established clergy, bishops, and priests, simply did not preach at all. It is said that the lay people could not expect any preaching from the priests in the local parish. Weeks and even months could go by without their hearing any sermon from the pulpit of their local church.5
Similarly, the primacy of the Word of God is being lost today. No doubt, if we looked at surveys of preaching length over the last hundred years, I am sure we would see a continual decline towards shorter and shorter messages. In many congregations around the world, the sermon has shrunk to a five or ten minute devotional message, while all the other elements of worship are much longer. In many congregations the exposition of the Word of God is nonexistent.
Do I mean to say longer sermons are better than shorter sermons? No, but I do mean to point out the fact that if we don’t want to stay in the Word of God a long time, it says something about our hearts, just as Israel desiring to hear it for six hours said something about their hearts. They really reverenced the Word of God.
Jesus said, “God is seeking those who will worship God in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23, paraphrase). This truth is the Word of God; we can’t have worship without the Word.
Interpretation Question: Why is reverence for the Word of God so important?
Remember Jesus prayed this in John 17:17: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
Reverence of the Word of God is important because it is primarily through the Word of God that God sanctifies us. He makes us holy, he changes us into his image, and he gets rid of sin. However, when there is a decrease in the reverence of the Word of God, there will always be a decrease in holiness. People will start to fall away from God because the Word is absent.
It is for this reason that Satan works overtime to undermine the Scripture. In the beginning, one of Satan’s first attacks was on the “Word of God.” He said to Eve, “Did God really say?” He sought to undermine the Word of God, and he does that today through liberal teachings. He whispers to the church, “Did God really say that?” He tries to rob the church of the inerrancy of Scripture, the sufficiency of Scripture, and, consequently, the authority of Scripture.
If people aren’t sure that it’s true or they think that only part of it is true, then why would someone reverence something that is full of errors? Why reverence something that might be a lie? In fact, Matthew 13:19 says that wherever the seed of the Word of God is sown, the evil one shows up to steal it. The enemy works hard to stop the Word of God from taking root in the lives of those who have heard it. This stops them from growing and sometimes from even being saved.
And, therefore, where there is decay in the people’s “reverence” of the Word of God, you will find a falling away from God, since Scripture reveals who God is. But, listen. We don’t just see this in the church at large, but we see this in our individual lives as well.
You can be sure that when there is decay in your time in the Word and in your passion for the Word of God that your sanctification will decay. Where the Word is not exalted, you will find that sin is not lacking.
Do you still revere the Word of God? God said this: “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).
Application Question: How have you seen a general decay in the reverence of the Word amongst God’s people? How is your reverence for the Word of God? How can we increase our reverence for God’s Word both corporately and individually?
In Revival, God Renews Corporate Prayer
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
Verses 1-4 seem to be a summary of Ezra’s ministry, as it describes the gathering of the people and Ezra’s reading. However, verses 5-6 tell us how it happened. He began the reading with prayer, as he praised the Lord. The people responded by lifting their hands and saying, “Amen, Amen” which means “so be it, so be it” or “truly, truly.”
This prayer was not just a formality before the reading of God’s Word. It was genuine cooperate worship and adoration of God. Corporate prayer and worship are a necessary part of revival.
Listen to what Christ taught:
“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
We commonly hear this verse quoted, “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” We often apply this to any time people are gathered for fellowship, but the context of this is prayer and the wider context is church discipline. The previous verse says, “if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you” (v. 18).
I think Christ is trying to teach that there is a tremendous power in corporate prayer. It brings the presence of God, which ultimately brings transformation, repentance, and revival. We experience God in a special way in corporate prayer, and it is through corporate prayer that we will see God move in a special way. For those who have truly experienced the benefits of it, they cannot live without it.
They cannot but be in a small group lifting up one another’s prayer requests; they cannot but be part of the church’s prayer ministry for it is there they have experienced him and seen his hand move in amazing ways. It is no wonder that soon after the prayer and the reading of the Word, we see Israel in this text weeping, rejoicing, and following God in obedience. God was there when they brought their prayers before him, and he moved in response.
In fact, we see a promise of revival connected to corporate prayer in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
This is God’s response to Solomon’s prayer for God to bless the temple (cf. 2 Chronicles 6:13-42). God said that when Israel was unified in humble prayer and repentance, he would hear and heal their land. Corporate prayer is necessary for revival.
Do we not see the need for corporate prayer? Do we not see the need to gather together and intercede over the church, government policies, and over our nation? It is there where God’s presence is manifest, and he moves on behalf of his people.
It is no wonder that every revival began with people gathering together to pray. They gathered, prayed, and God moved to restore the land. Even the great revival in Acts began with people waiting on the Lord in prayer. Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” The small band of disciples prayed and the Spirit of God fell and brought a revival. After Pentecost, the early church continued to gather daily to devote themselves to Scripture and prayer (Acts 2:42). Furthermore, the apostles declared their dependence on it. They would not neglect the discipline of prayer and the Word, not even for social service like caring for widows (Acts 6:4).
Sadly, when we are lacking revival in our own lives and in the church, we are too busy to pray. We are too busy to pray individually and too busy to pray corporately. Therefore, revival tarries both individually and corporately.
How is God calling you to restore or grow in your prayer life? How is God calling you to gather with others to intercede for revival?
Application Question: How is God calling you to protect and cultivate your prayer life both individually and corporately?
In Revival, God Renews Genuine Mourning over Sin
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
As the people listened to the Word of God, they began to weep. Nehemiah rebuked them because this was supposed to be a day of celebration; God had rebuilt their walls and taken away their reproach before their enemies. However, as the Word of God was listened to, people had genuine remorse, which resulted in genuine obedience to God.
In every revival, there have been great waves of repentance. People were cut to the heart over their sins and repented. This is the natural response of somebody who has seen or experienced God. When Isaiah saw God he cried, “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty’” (Isaiah 6:3). Isaiah called himself a dead man. That is what “Woe” meant; it was used for dead people. Peter, when he recognized Christ, said, “Away from me Lord, I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8).
Because in revival we experience God, genuine mourning and repentance will be involved. Listen to what James said to scattered Jewish Christians in James 4:8-10:
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
As we come near God, he comes near us. Then, we, by necessity, mourn and repent of our sins, and then he lifts us up. He revives us; he strengthens us; he renews us.
However, the opposite of mourning is laughter. When the church or an individual Christian is unhealthy, instead of mourning over sin, they laugh at it. They pump it in their music; they watch it on their TV; they make jokes about it with their friends. An unhealthy church or individual believer enjoys sin instead of mourning and repenting over it.
Are you still mourning over your sin and the sin of your community? Or have you just accepted it or, even worse, are you rejoicing in it, like the world?
In describing the characteristics of those who are part of the kingdom of God, Christ said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4). True believers are mourners, and they also receive the comfort of God. He comforts them as he forgives their sin. He comforts them as he turns their church or their community around in revival. He comforts them, ultimately, when he destroys sin and the evil one at his second coming. Oh Lord, comfort your church.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen a lack of mourning over sin in the church, your community, or in your own life? How is God calling you to become a mourner?
In Revival, God Renews Obedience to the Word of God
On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law. They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths”—as it is written. So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.
Finally, we cannot but notice Israel’s obedience to the Word of God. The heads of all the families came back to Ezra on the second day of the month to give further attention to the words of the law (v. 13). They wanted more of the Word of God. The leaders got into a small group with Ezra and actually rediscovered the Feast of the Booths, which Israel had neglected.
After learning this, the leaders called all the people of Israel to practice this feast. They placed tents on their roofs and in their courtyards and lived in them, as the nation once did in the wilderness. This was a reminder of God’s faithfulness to provide for the nation after leaving Egypt, where they were previously slaves. In fact, Scripture says they did it in such a way that had never been done since the days of Joshua. Israel was obedient to the Word of God. Obedience to Scripture is a necessary part of revival.
Application Question: Why is obedience a common experience in revival?
One of the reasons that obedience is a common characteristic of revival is because obedience is a characteristic of genuine conversion. In the church, we often find extremes in one’s affection for the Word: some people love to hear and respond to the Word, and yet many are extremely apathetic towards it. Christ talks about this tendency in the Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 7:24-27, he described those who hear and obey the Word, as those who build their house on a strong foundation and the house stands in the storm. But, those who hear and do not obey it are like those who build their house on the sand, and it falls during the storm. When he gives this illustration, he is really describing those who are converted and those who are not. In Matthew 7:21-23, he had previously described those in the church who say “Lord, Lord,” but live a life of disobedience and he says to them, “I never knew you.”
One’s continual response to the Word of God is a picture of one’s salvation. James taught the same thing. He said, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).
What does he mean by one being self-deceived? He is talking about the genuineness of his salvation. He speaks directly to these people in James 2:17 and says, “Don’t you know faith without works is dead?” He says, “Even the demons believe in God” (v.19), but they are not saved.
He spoke to Christians who listened but weren’t responding, and therefore, he challenged the reality of their salvation. Remember even Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist (Mk 6:20), but he didn’t obey the Word of God. Herod wasn’t born again. In fact, he later murdered John the Baptist. Part of the reason why so many churches are dead is because so many listeners don’t practice God’s Word—proving they are not truly born again.
Similarly, the apostle John said, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands (1 John 2:3). When people are obeying God, it proves that they are saved.
In revivals, genuine conversion brings about great repentance and obedience. People start following Christ, and it changes their life. Sadly, most churches are full of people who call him, “Lord,” and yet practice a lifestyle of disobedience (cf. Matt 7:21-23).
With that said, James gives another fruit of obedience. He says, “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25).
God blesses those who do the will of God. That is what we see happening in Nehemiah 8. The Israelites had a celebration of the Feast of Booths that was greater than any feast since the days of Joshua (v. 17). God blessed them because they were obedient. Obedience will characterize corporate revival and also revival in our own lives.
In the days of Nehemiah, Israel had been in rebellion towards God’s Word. They were no longer celebrating the festival and many other commandments. However, when they heard the preaching of God’s Word, they were cut to the heart and responded. They turned away from their sin and practiced what God’s Word said. This has characterized revivals throughout history: people repented—turning away from sin and the things of this world—and submitted to God.
Are we obedient to the Word of God? Do we practice obedience as a lifestyle? Obedience gives us assurance of salvation, but it also brings God’s blessings on his people. Revivals have always been characterized by obedience because it is proof of genuine conversion and it also brings God’s blessing.
Are you practicing obedience? Or are you choosing the world and sin over God?
Application Question: In what ways is God challenging you to greater obedience? In what ways have you seen his blessing when you were obedient and the removal of his blessings when you were not?
What are characteristics of a revival of worship amongst God’s people or in our individual lives?
- In revival, God restores unity amongst the people of God.
- In revival, God restores devoted teachers of the Word of God to leadership.
- In revival, God restores reverence for the Word of God.
- In revival, God restores corporate prayer.
- In revival, God restores genuine mourning over sin.
- In revival, God restores obedience to the Word of God.
Application Question: As a leader, in what ways is God calling you to help restore revival in your life and in your community?
1 Kidner, D. (1979). Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 12, p. 115). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
2 Boice, J. M. (2005). Nehemiah: an expositional commentary (p. 93). Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks.
3 Holmes, Leslie. “Up to 1500 Pastors a Month Need to Read this Column” retrieved 11/21/14, from
4Terpstra, Charles. “The Reformation: A Return to the Primacy of Preaching.” retrieved 1/9/15, from
5 Terpstra, Charles. “The Reformation: A Return to the Primacy of Preaching.” retrieved 1/9/15, from
Related Topics: Leadership