The time is the restoration, the return to their homeland under Nehemiah of a group of Jews who had lived under captivity to Babylon and then Persia. The occasion is the seventh month when faithful Jews gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate several national feasts. (Please read Nehemiah, chapter eight. There is far more wealth in this chapter than these brief paragraphs can address.) What characterizes this large and disparate gathering—namely, its unity—is the subject of this space.
The fullness of the unity. Only the most careless reading of the first eight verses of this chapter could fail to see the emphasis on the unity of the people. Note the following citations.
“And all the people gathered as one man at the square” (v. 1). “Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding” (v. 2). “He read . . . in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law” (v. 3). “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up” (v. 5). “And all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’” (v. 6). Then various named “Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place” (v. 7).
The focus of the unity. The glue that held these people together is made equally emphatic in our text. They are not unified by ignoble self-interest nor even by national emergency. What unites them is a desire to hear from God through His inspired Word. “They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses” (v. 1). “Then Ezra the priest brought the law” (v. 2). “He read from it [i.e., the law] . . . and all the people were attentive to the book of the law” (v. 3). “Ezra opened the book” (v. 5). “The Levites, explained the law” (v. 7). “They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (v. 8).
The force of the unity. The unity was not superficial but substantial, expressing itself in both their expressed desire and manifest determination to hear and understand the Word of God. “They [the gathered people] asked Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses” (v. 1). Ezra read the law “from early morning until midday and all the people were attentive to the book of the law” (v. 3). When Ezra opened the book “all the people stood up” (v. 5). “Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (v. 6). “The Levites, explained the law . . . while the people remained in their place” (v. 7). “They understood the reading” (v. 8).
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