International Sunday School Lesson for August 4, 2013
Scripture Text: Nehemiah 8:13-18
Purpose: To remember in worship that although the past may involve pain, celebrating our heritage brings joy
Background Nehemiah 7:73b-8:18
Nehemiah 8:13-18 (CEB)
13 On the second day, the heads of the families of all the people, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered together around Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Instruction. 14 And they found written in the Instruction that the Lord had commanded through Moses that the Israelites should live in booths during the festival of the seventh month.
15 They also found that they should make the following proclamation and announce it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: "Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written."
16 So the people went out and brought them, and made booths for themselves, each on the roofs of their houses or their courtyards, in the courtyards of God’s house, in the area by the Water Gate, or in the area by the Gate of Ephraim.
17 The whole assembly of those who had returned from captivity made booths and lived in them. This was something that the people of Israel hadn’t done since the days of Joshua, Nun’s son, and there was very great rejoicing.
18 He read from God’s Instruction scroll every day, from the first until the last day of the festival. They kept the festival for seven days and held a solemn assembly on the eighth day, just as the Instruction required.
My Thoughts by Burgess Walter
Today's lesson is about keeping in touch with our past, in order to appreciate and celebrate our heritage.
I love an old story that is told about what happened in Switzerland at the end of the 18th
and early 19th century. The industrial revolution was in its infancy in Europe, and things were changing. In the large cities of Switzerland they were building factories that used water and steam power. These new factories needed workers, and so many of the Swiss people that lived on farms up in the mountains came down to the cities to work. After some time had passed a strange phenomena starting happening, those workers became ill, they could not perform the task that was expected and no one had any idea what the problem was or what was causing this illness. German experts were called in to see if they could identify the cause of the illness. After months and months of testing and research they finally identified the cause for the illness among the workers. And the name that was given to this mysterious disease was called “nostalgia,” today we call it being “homesick.” The workers and mercenaries simply wanted to go home, back to the mountains and meadows, back to living the way they used to live in the mountains.
The people of Judah had spent almost 70 years in captivity, they had been deprived of worshiping as they once did in Jerusalem. Now, with the leadership of Ezra in rebuilding the temple and Nehemiah in rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem they were finally able to worship in the way they wanted. They had a desire to find out about their heritage and they wanted to learn and they wanted their worship to have meaning.
They had sacrificed and struggled in order for this to become a reality. In prior times it was the Prophets that taught shared with the people what God was revealing to them. But Ezra had meticulously copied the Torah and all the Books of the Prophets and of the Writings and for the first time the written word was used, rather than the word of the Prophets.
The Festival of Booths was an old celebration that had been lost over time. It occurs at the end of the month when Rosh-Hashanah and day of atonement are celebrated, which would be our September. Ezra read from the Torah, (Leviticus 23:33-43) how they were to prepare and celebrate. They built the booths and lived in them during this week following the “Day of Atonement” (Yom-Kippur) celebration. It was probably a carnival like atmosphere.
I think back to our own heritage, I was raised in the Evangelical United Brethren Church, now a part of the United Methodist. I remember how important it was for my grandparents to attend an annual conference every year, the conference was held at a campsite and several families would bunk together in a rustic old cabin for a week. It was an unique time of celebrating the heritage, with a week of devotions, preaching and singing along with renewing old friends and establishing new ones and of course there was always some business that required voting. I can still remember how much my grandparents looked forward to attending that week, and the friends that they would see, or the former pastors that would be there.
Today we meet in large auditoriums and pretty nice hotel rooms, but I doubt we can recreate the atmosphere that was there in northern Indiana on Lake Wawasee near Syracuse, Indiana.
It is always good to recall the past and appreciate our heritage, but most importantly we need to make certain our present does not loose sight of the past, and what God has brought us through.