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May 29 Today’s Reading: Nehemiah 8-10
“So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly,
and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”
Nehemiah 8 is an inspired record of the Word of God being read, interpreted, and preached. There is much to be learned from it. While chapters 9 and 10 are full of instruction for our souls, in our day nothing is more contemptible than the flippant, casual way people interpret Holy Scripture and that which is called preaching. So I call your attention and my own to this great work, this work upon which God himself has ordained that the salvation of his elect, the building of his church, and the edification of his saints depends.
It is not necessary to know the ancient languages to accurately interpret the Bible. God has given us his Word in our own language. Only two things are necessary for an accurate interpretation of Holy Scripture: faith and honesty. We must believe what God says, subjecting our reason, opinions, and emotions to the revelation of God in the Scriptures. And we must interpret the Word of God with honesty. An honest interpretation of God’s Word is a contextual interpretation. Three things are involved in an honest, contextual interpretation of the scriptures.
1. Context. — Everything revealed in the Scriptures must be interpreted by the context in which it is given. It is dishonest to take a man’s words out of context, much more so to take God’s words out of context. Every word, phrase, verse, and chapter of the Bible must be interpreted in the light of its context. I mean it must be interpreted in the light of its immediate context, and in the light of the whole Book of Divine Revelation, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).
2. Plain Statements. — We must build our doctrine upon the plain statements of Holy Scripture and upon the whole Volume of Inspiration. We must not form our doctrine by logic or tradition, and then seek to find “proof texts’ for the doctrine we have built. And we must not build our doctrine upon isolated portions of scripture. We build our doctrine upon the whole testimony of God.
3. Place Explained. — If we would know the truth of God concerning any subject, we must go to that place in the Scriptures where that specific subject is explained by an inspired writer. If you want to know what the Bible says about baptism, you must not go to Acts 2:38, but to Romans 6. If you want to know what the Bible teaches about marriage and divorce, you must not go to Romans 7:1-4, but to 1 Corinthians 7. If you want to know what God has to say about his purpose of grace, you do not go to John 3:16, but to Ephesians 1, Romans 8, 9, and 10. Honesty compels a man who seeks to know the truth of God to find that place in the Bible where a subject is taught and explained and build his doctrine upon God’s revelation. Honesty and faith will keep us from error.
Preaching — God’s Definition
You will not find a clearer, more direct definition of preaching than is here given by God the Holy Spirit. “Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose.” Standing upon this elevated pulpit above the people (so that he could be seen and heard by all), Ezra lifted up praises to the Lord God and led the people of God in the reverent worship of Jehovah our Savior. Then we are told that Ezra and those who preached with him on this great day did three things, three things that every preacher must do every time he stands to speak to eternity bound sinners in the name of God.
1. “They read in the Book in the law of God distinctly.” — If we would preach to immortal souls in the name of God, let us preach the Book of God. If we would preach the Book of God, we must read the Word of God in our assemblies. The public reading of Holy Scripture is as important as congregational singing and prayer. Notice that Ezra and his assistants in worship read the Word of God “distinctly”. Let us do the same. Before reading a portion of Scripture in public, the man reading should go over that portion in private, reading it many times in preparation for the public worship service, so that he may read it “distinctly”. When we read the Word of God in public worship (or lead the congregation in prayer), we should do so “distinctly”, carefully pronouncing each word with clarity and speaking with sufficient volume to be heard.
2. “And gave the sense.” — How blessed we are when God sends a man to speak to our hearts by his Word who gives us the meaning of his Word! To give the sense of any portion of Scripture is to expound the text, giving out the meaning of the text as it stands in the Book of God. Preaching is not telling people what you think about a passage, or what a passage reminds you of, or how you think a passage applies to modern life! To preach the Word of God is to faithfully give the message of God the Holy Spirit in the text. The only way a preacher can do that is by diligent preparation, prayer, and study.
3. “And caused them to understand the reading.” — If the people to whom we preach do not understand what we preach, if they are not by our preaching caused to understand the Word of God, then our preaching is utterly meaningless. The man called and sent of God to preach the gospel is “apt to teach”, gifted of God to cause those who hear him to understand the Word of God. He preaches with such simplicity and boldness that no one can misunderstand what he preaches.