In honoring the law of God, we find the freedom, the peace that our hearts desire.
There is a very powerful scene in the Book of Nehemiah 8:1-12 depicting the scribe Ezra bringing the book of the law of Moses to be read to a massive assembly of “men, women, and those children old enough to understand”. This comes at a time when the Jews had been in exile for many years and had become lax or even abandoned the faith, and they had suffered dearly for it. Nehemia had gained permission from Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. This event took place at the Water Gate.
Ezra held the scrolls high so the people could see them and read from them from daybreak to mid-day. The people reacted to the words by raising their hands high and saying, “Amen.” Then they “bowed down, prostrating themselves before the Lord, their faces to the ground”. They began to weep as they heard the words of the law, but they were told by the Levites and Ezra, “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep.” Rather, he tells them to “go and eat rich food and drink sweet drinks, and to share portions, and to celebrate with great joy.” And we then hear the reason why, “For they understood the words that had been expounded to them.”
There is so much here that can be addressed to us in our own day. Our time now is as chaotic and full of suffering as was that time we read about above and for the same reasons. Our times have “gone off the tracks” and lost, or abandoned the laws of God and those of man for countless reasons. We are reaping the consequences of it every day, from the level of the individual to society as a whole. Division and discord are the norm. We see it in the collapse of the traditional family, to the warring ideologies of social, economic, and political extremism. Because God and traditional values have been ridiculed, even abandoned, we experience a world charged with hatred, lies, abuses of power, and an inability to listen to anything beyond the demands of the terrible tyrant of the ego.
The people of Nehemiah’s time were called together in the midst of their suffering to listen to the reading of the law of Moses and they experienced the liberating reality of repentance. The law was once again read and interpreted before them. They began to see that the joy that they missed and so dearly desired to know again was to be found only in obedience to the precepts of the Lord. They began to realize that the law of God did not limit, or confine them. The truth was that living in accord with the law of God was the source of all joy, all freedom, and all happiness.
The psalmist picks up on this theme in Psalm 19. We hear: “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul;/ The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.” And the refrain is, “The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.” This is the great paradox of faith that too often gets lost in the darkness of our rebellions; it is in our submission to the law of God that we are made free. It is in our denial of the law of God that we find ourselves enslaved to personal desires, to selfishness, to discord and to endless conflict and division. We have here before our very eyes here, the truest, most direct means to the happiness we all so deeply desire. It is in honoring the law of God that we find the freedom, the peace, the justice, and the mercy that our hearts desire. And this challenge is before each one of us every day. Which do we choose? The answer makes all the difference.