Another Look by David Faust
In an agricultural society one of the worst things that can happen is a drought. When it doesn’t rain, crops don’t grow, grass turns brown, drinking water dries up, and livestock suffers. How terrible it must have been in the days of Elijah when “it did not rain on the land for three and a half years” (James 5:17; 1 Kings 17, 18).
A spiritual drought is even more serious. Have you ever gone through a dry season in your walk with God when your faith weakened and your courage drooped? Have you needed “times of refreshing” from the Lord (Acts 3:19)?
In the days of Nehemiah God’s people rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, but when they finished the work, they were worn out. Like flowers needing water on a hot summer day, their souls needed to be refreshed. So they gathered, appropriately enough, at a place called the Water Gate. Several things happened there to renew their spiritual strength.
God-given truth renewed their minds. Ezra the scribe brought out the Book of the Law of Moses. “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” (Nehemiah 8:3). Their teachers explained the Scripture, “making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” (v. 8).
God-focused worship renewed their spiritual passion. “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” (v. 6).
God-given joy renewed their emotions. At first the people were filled with remorse when confronted with their sin. “All the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law” (v. 9). But Nehemiah said to eat, drink, celebrate, and share with others, “for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (v. 10). The people took tree branches and “built themselves shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate” (v. 16) where they celebrated the Feast of Shelters (Tabernacles), Israel’s thanksgiving festival described in Leviticus chapter 23. Children must have loved this week-long campout filled with rest, feasting, and worship. The rabbis had a saying: “He who has not seen Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles does not know what rejoicing means.” Apparently the Jews had not observed the feast since they had gone into Babylonian captivity, and they had been missing a great blessing. Now they experienced it once again, “and their joy was very great” (Nehemiah 8:17).
Finally, God-honoring obedience renewed their commitment. In Nehemiah chapters nine and 10 the people confessed their sins and renewed their commitment to obey God—putting it in writing—and summarizing their intentions with the words, “We will not neglect the house of our God” (10:39).
What should we do when our own spiritual resources are depleted? There’s no simple answer, but these lessons from Nehemiah can help. Don’t give in to lies; God’s Word is still true. Don’t turn your back on the Lord; worship him the best you can. Don’t wallow in guilt and despair; ask the Lord to restore your joy. In your weak moments, don’t give in to sin or neglect the house of God; renew your commitment and obey the Lord.
Christ walked through his own desert, and he will walk through your desert with you. Eventually, as you remain faithful to the Lord and steady in your service to others, you will experience a sweet promise delivered by the prophet Isaiah: “The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:11).