HEN the wall of Jerusalem was finished, Nehemiah called together all the Jews from the villages and cities in the land to meet in Jerusalem. They met, a great company with their wives and children, in an open place before the Temple. Ezra, the good priest and scribe, who had wrought so great a work in bringing together and writing the books of the Old Testament (see Story 107), was in the city at that time. They asked Ezra to bring the book, and to read the law of the Lord to the people.
He came, carrying with him the great rolls upon which the law was written, and stood up on a pulpit which they had built, where all the people could see him; and with Ezra were men whom he had taught in the law, so that they could teach it to others.
When Ezra stood up in the pulpit, above the heads of the people, and unrolled the scroll, all the people, who had been sitting upon the ground, rose up, while Ezra gave thanks to the Lord, who had given to them his law. Then the people said "Amen!" with a loud voice, and they bowed until their heads touched the ground, and worshipped.
Then Ezra began to read in the book, aloud, so that as many as possible could hear. But as the people did not all understand the old Hebrew tongue in which the book was written, men were chosen to stand by Ezra; and as he read each sentence, these men explained it to the people, while all the people stood listening. So, as Ezra read, these men told its meaning, so that the people could understand the word of the Lord.
Ezra's great bible class
Many of the people had never heard God's law read before, and they wept as they listened to it. But Nehemiah, who was there as the ruler, said to them, "This day is holy to the Lord; do not mourn nor weep, but rather be glad, and eat and drink, and send gifts of food to those who are in need, for you are strong in the Lord, and should be joyful."
And the Levites quieted the people, saying, "Hold your peace, for the day is holy. Do not weep, but be glad in the Lord."
And all the people went home to feast and to be glad, because they could hear and understand the words of God's law.
After this another great meeting was held, and the people confessed their sins before God, and the sins of their fathers in forsaking God's law, and in not doing his will. And all the people made a solemn promise that they would keep God's law, and would do his will; that they would be God's people, and no more give their sons to marry women who did not worship the Lord; that they would keep holy God's day, the Sabbath; and they would give to the Lord's house for all the offerings. And they wrote the promise on a roll, and all the princes and rulers and priests signed it, and placed their seals upon it.
Nehemiah had now finished the work for which he had made the long journey to Jerusalem. He went back to Shushan, and stood once more in his place, pouring the wine at the king's table. But after some years he came again to Jerusalem. He found that not all the people had fulfilled their promises to serve the Lord, and especially, that the Sabbath-day was not kept as it should be. People were treading wine-presses, and bringing into the city loads of grain, and selling wine, and grapes and figs, on the Sabbath-day. And men from the city of Tyre, beside the Great Sea, who were not worshippers of the Lord, brought in fish, and sold them on the Sabbath. When Nehemiah saw all these evils, he was greatly displeased, and said to the rulers of the city, "Why do you allow these evil things to be done, and the Sabbath-day to be broken? Were not these the very things that made God angry with our fathers, so that he let this city be destroyed? Will you bring God's anger upon us again by doing such things on God's holy day?"
Then Nehemiah gave orders that before the sun set on the evening before the Sabbath the gates of the city should be shut, and not opened until the morning after the Sabbath was over. The men came with their things to be sold, and waited outside for the gates to be opened. Nehemiah looked over the wall, and saw them, and said to them, "What are you doing here? If you come here again on the Sabbath, I will put you in prison!"
Then they went away, and came no more upon the holy day. By such strong acts as these Nehemiah led the people to a more faithful service of the Lord. And after this Jerusalem grew large and strong, and was full of people. And Jews from other lands began to come to live in the land, until it was once more filled with cities and towns; and the hills over all the land were covered with vineyards and oliveyards, and the plains were waving with fields of grain.
A little after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, Malachi arose as the last of the prophets of the Old Testament.
"Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me. And the Lord shall suddenly come to his Temple; behold, he cometh, saith the Lord. Behold, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the great day of the Lord shall come. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers."
And with these words the Old Testament ends.