On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law. They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters”—as it is written. So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great. Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly. – Nehemiah 8:13-18
We return the water gate for this passage with a slightly different purpose, no Super Bowl sermons this time. Ezra is continuing to read from the Book of Moses. The Israelites “give attention to the words of the Law”. They are listening and understanding what the Lord requires of them.
The directions they receive are interesting “live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month…and proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem” This is the first time I can remember where the Israelites are called on directly to share what they are learning about God.
When I was a teenager I went through a phase when I was really into learning about survival skills like fire starting, building shelters, and making rope out of cedar bark. One of the fruits of this phase was a large Wikiup that I built with a couple of friends in the forest near our house. It was a large shelter made of branches and fir boughs. It was big enough to have a fire inside without burning it down.
I am not sure why the Israelites were to build temporary shelters. I suppose it could be merely functional in that it would not make sense to build permanent shelters in front of the Water Gate which presumably was meant to allow people to enter the city. It could also be symbolic and represent the need for the Israelites to be constantly “sending out“, and reaching out, to those around them rather than focusing only on building their own homes.
This celebration and response from the Israelites is a new thing not seen since “the days of Joshua son of Nun”. There is a very real sense that they are learning how to faithfully follow God in a new way.
Prayer: God help us to follow you in a new way and spread word of You to those around us.