What I’m Thinking: Grace and Obligation

The people of Israel gathered to celebrate the restoration of their city. They heard a reading of the law – community and grace have obligations, too.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the eighth chapter of the book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10): the reading of the Law to the people of Israel. This took place about five hundred years before Jesus’ birth in the city of Jerusalem.

It was not, however, the city of Kings David or Solomon. It was not the city of the prophets Isaiah or Jeremiah. This was the city that had been destroyed in Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s day. This was the city that was being rebuilt by the returned exiles who had come back from Babylon (Babylon had been overthrown by the Persian Empire). This was the city which those who had remained – their descendants – were also rebuilding along with those returnees. This was a city that was not all that familiar with the Law.

This shouldn’t come as an enormous surprise. Judaism was in the midst of its transition to becoming a “People of the Book,” and relatively few people in that day could read. It’s said about one of the last kings of Judah, King Josiah, that he had to be acquainted with the Law when a scroll was found in the Temple and it was read to him. Apparently he hadn’t heard it before. Scholars believe that what he heard was the book of Deuteronomy.

We’re not sure precisely what it was that was read to the people outside the Water Gate in Jerusalem that day. When King Josiah had heard Deuteronomy, he tore his clothes. When the people of Jerusalem heard the Law, they wept.

Ezra told them that this was not a day for weeping. This was a day for celebration because God’s direction, God’s word, God’s structure for their life together had been found and renewed. But do not mistake. It was also a day of obligation. The people had been restored to their home. They had their city once again. That city came with standards, that life together was to be lived in some ways and not in others.

This is something that Christians often if not forget, ignore. Our life together is supposed to be lived in obligation to one another, not in privilege from one another. And so yes: Celebrate the gift of grace. But remember as well that the gift of grace is one to be shared. The Christian life is a gracious, grace-filled, and grace-overflowing life.

Celebrate but also weep to know what you have been called to do.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , , , | Posted on January 18, 2022

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