7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.
8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
The Word of God. The News of God. The History of God. The Journal Entries of God. The Letters of God. The Poetry of God. The Songs of God. This is what we read when we read the Bible. This is what we are handling with our hands and hearts. This is the precious ground on which we tread.
I sometimes wish we didn't all possess a copy.
I wish we would have to convene in some field two states from us to have it read by a Levite. He would stand on a wood-hewn platform high above and we would listen like little ants way down below. We would know that something special was happening, something that we don't get a chance to do or hear whenever we want. Something unique enough to caravan with others to see. It was hallowed--this public reading of the Law. It was sacred.
The people would bow and flail and yell and weep. They would shout one moment and be silenced the next by the sentences and paragraphs of God story. With bated breath they would await the honey dripping off Levitical lips. Like a long awaited sirloin steak, vacation or time with friends, they would gather around this hand-crafted wooden platform digging out the wax in their ears so as to not miss a single syllable.
Sounds like our churches on Sunday morning doesn't it?
People come dying for the Word of God don't they? Starving for truth. Hungering for every jot and tittle that spills from the preacher's tongue. They fall on their faces in joy and repentance. The minute the WORD is opened and spoken, people rise to their feet in holy fear at the sound of Scripture, don't they. As the words trickle from the mouth of the messenger and cascade over the rock of people's hearts, people can't help but respond with, "Amen and Amen...meaning..It is true, It is true!"
Thank God "the Word won't return void" as it says in Isaiah 55.
And yet, it does, ladies and gentlemen. It does week after week in church after church in town after town. Void is precisely what happens when the Scriptures are read and heard. What is wrong?
I was struck with lightning when I read verse 8. The lights when on. The angels started singing. The dead started rising in me. It finally made sense.
I've been taught that when you "Preach the Word", it "won't return void" and frankly have always been baffled by that because, for all practical purposes, I've witnessed the exact opposite a good many Sundays of my life. No excitement unless it was extracted by the pastor like a impacted molar. No anticipation for sermons, only a watch-watching congregation wondering when the preacher would land the plane so they could go home. No spontaneous responses of wonderment, only an "I-told-you-so, that's-what-I-thought, what's-the-big-deal, tell-me-something-I-didn't-already-know" facial expression that spoke of boredom mixed with bemusement.
So to be brutally honest, I've witnessed the Word returning void more than it returning vital, which has caused pause in my heart and made me question the interpretation of that verse over the years. I think we want to think that we can just "get the word out", "preach the word", and be done with it. Let go and let God, so to speak. It is an easy escape hatch for the person that doesn't want to include themselves in the equation. Escapist language is often cloaked in humility. "It's not me, it's God." "I'm just the messenger." I even heard a guy in prayer a couple weeks ago say, "God, take me out of the equation. Do your thing." It sounds so fundamentally sound, so theologically correct. And to be sure, it has its place.
But here's the thing...if God just wanted us to "Preach his Word" without being a part of the equation or interjecting our own commentary, then why don't preachers just take the pure truth and read the text without interpretation, explanation and application? Why don't we leave ourselves out of the whole transaction?
Well, here's why. Because of verses like Nehemiah 8:8 which says, "They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read."
You can't abdicate your responsibility so easily. Yes, you must read from the Book, but you must also put yourself into it. You have the terrible and terrific responsibility of "making is clear" and even more importantly "giving it meaning". Why? So the people can understand for crying out loud!
It must be said that if you're not applying yourself as much to clarity and meaning as to Biblical soundness, you will watch the Word return void your whole ministry and woefully only be a "legend in your own mind" as you spin doctor your ineffectiveness with resignations like "people just aren't as hungry for truth as they used to be" or "we are quite obviously in the last days" or "it does say that all men will hate you because of me" or "the road is narrow for real Christians and few there be that find it". What a clever dodging of the probable truth...namely, that the preacher is boring and the people are bored. The Word is being preached, but the Word is not being preached with clarity and meaning.
A preacher must labor over clarity and meaning like they are birthing a child. They can't blame the boredom on the congregation week after week. Come on! That's denial!
And here's why this is important, because the longer leaders misdirect their problem solving and trouble shooting toward the people and not themselves, the longer truth will be communicated in unclear and irrelevant forms. As leaders, we must take the responsibility for relevant communication seriously. Relevance isn't Cultural, it's Biblical. In every age, prophets have had to learn the language of culture, the stories of culture, the wineskins of culture and do everything in their power to convert truth into those terms. Until truth is converted people won't be. It's that simple. You can try to convert people with yelling verses all day long, but until people say, "Wow, that makes sense and feels important", we will stand in front of humanity making fools of ourselves all the while thinking them the fools. Sad.
This verse clearly says that we read the Scriptures with two objectives: 1. Make it clear. 2. Give it meaning. And the reason is all-important....because people have got to understand! You may say, "Well, the Lord brings illumination." I understand. He opens the eyes of their heart, but I think we have the responsibility of opening the eyes of their mind. We have to entice them, woo them, tease them, and lure them. We must bedazzle the word until people are bewitched with longing. We must be "workman who need not be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth". Yes. Workman.
I simply had to put this into words. Preachers must wake up. We have an awesome responsibility. We cannot shirk that responsibility with blame shifting. God's Word is relevant, we cannot make it more so. But I assure you, we can make it less.
The Word. Clarity. Meaning. Understanding.