After Ezra read God’s law to the Jews, everyone that had knowledge and understanding of what they had heard, made a commitment “to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD” (Nehemiah 10:29). The seriousness of their commitment was described as entering into a curse, and into an oath, meaning a curse would be on the head of anyone who broke the agreement (423). An oath was similar to what we think of today as giving sworn testimony in a court of law. To take an oath or swear was considered a promise. In the same way that God makes promises to us, an oath was treated like a legal agreement that could not be broken.

The most important thing to note about the commitment the Jews made was that it was a voluntary action. The people realized that God’s laws were mandatory, but they made a personal commitment to follow them because they were aware of what had happened to their ancestors as a result of not keeping God’s commandments. One of the key issues Jesus had to deal with during his ministry on earth was the keeping of God’s commandments. The Jews went beyond God’s law to establish traditions that were impossible to keep, such “as the washing of pots and cups” (Mark 7:8), and even plucking ears of corn to eat was considered a violation of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-24).

Jesus used the word hypocrite to describe the Jews’ overzealous behavior in keeping the commandments. He said, “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7). In order to distinguish the true intent of God’s law, Jesus clarified the critical points that needed to be remembered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

Perhaps the mistake the Jews made in making a commitment to keep God’s commandments was not that they didn’t understand the law, but that they didn’t interpret it correctly. The primary purpose of the Ten Commandments was to maintain healthy relationships so that there would be unity among God’s people. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus gave his disciples some final instructions. In order to clarify God’s expectations about keeping his commandments, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).

A deeper understanding

At the conclusion of their building project, all the Jews gathered themselves together as a congregation and requested that Ezra read to them from the book of the law of Moses. Nehemiah previously noted that the whole congregation together was 42,360 people (Nehemiah 7:66), so the crowd would have been similar in size to a packed baseball stadium, but they actually took up much less space because Nehemiah said all the people stood in the street, and Ezra spoke to them from a pulpit made of wood that was raised above them so that everyone could see him (Nehemiah 8:4-5).

In his opening prayer, Ezra blessed the LORD, which means he kneeled down before him in reverence (1288). In response, as a sign of their commitment and willingness to submit themselves to God, it says in Nehemiah 8:6 that, “all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” Ezra’s reading of the law went beyond merely speaking it out loud so that everyone could hear it. His intent was to make sure that everyone clearly understood it. It says in Nehemiah 8:8, “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”

You could say the gathering of the Jews was more like a Bible Study than it was a recitation of the law. It was important for them to have a deeper understanding of God’s word because the people were expected to actually do what the law said they were supposed to. The Hebrew word translated distinctly, parash means to separate or disperse. In a figurative sense, the word can be used to specify something or to wound someone as with a harsh word or saying (6567). The Apostle Paul said in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

One of the ways Ezra knew that the people truly understood what he was saying to them was “all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law” (Nehemiah 8:9). In other words, they were convicted of their sins and felt bad about all the things they had been doing wrong. Surprisingly, Ezra didn’t encourage the people to grieve or to be sorry for their sin, but told them they should celebrate because “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10), meaning, in their process of reaching spiritual maturity, it was more important for the people to convey the joy of God’s forgiveness than it was for them to express grief because they had sinned. “And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them” (Nehemiah 8:12).


While the Jews were in captivity in Babylon, they were expected to conform to the laws and customs of the kingdom in which they lived. The book of Daniel records two incidents where disobedience was punished by death. The first was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego who were thrown into a fiery furnace for not worshipping a golden image made by the king Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:21) and the second was Daniel who was thrown into a lion’s den because he prayed to his God instead of King Darius (Daniel 6:16). When it was discovered that Esther’s uncle Mordecai would not bow or worship Haman the Agagite, it was not enough for him to just kill Mordecai, Haman decided to have all the Jews exterminated and he was able to obtain permission from the king Ahasuerus to do so (Esther 3:11).

Mordecai’s response to the king’s commandment showed that he was devastated by what was going to happen to God’s people (Esther 4:1) and so, he went to Queen Esther to ask for her help. Esther’s initial reaction indicated that she was more concerned about being killed for breaking the law than she was saving her people. Esther sent a message to Mordecai saying, “All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden scepter, that he may live: but I have not been called to come into the king these thirty days” (Esther 4:11). The picture Esther painted of her husband, King Ahasuerus was a tyrant that would kill his own wife simply because she dared approach him without his permission. Esther may have been justified in her opinion of her husband, but it also revealed her attitude toward God. Esther didn’t believe God would deliver her, even though he had delivered Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego, and Daniel when they were going to be killed.

Esther’s insecurity may have been due to her awareness that she was out of the will of God. Although Esther didn’t choose to marry Ahasuerus, she was benefitting from her position as queen of Persia. Mordecai’s argument was that it might actually have been God’s will for her to marry Ahasuerus so that she could use her position to intervene with her husband on behalf of her people, the Jews. Mordecai told Esther, “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knows that whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). In other words, what Mordecai wanted Esther to know was that God would hold her accountable for her intention rather than her action with regards to her obedience to the Persian law. Mordecai believed God would save his people, including Esther, if she chose to put her trust in him instead of her husband, King Ahasuerus.

Before Esther went in to speak to her husband, she asked Mordecai to have all the Jews observe a fast on her behalf. Esther indicated that she and her servants would fast also. Esther most likely viewed this action as a way of purifying herself. Although the fast may have had some effect in the mind of Esther, it is unlikely God paid any more or less attention to what Esther was doing as a result of their fast. What was important to him was that Esther cared enough to risk her own life to stop what was going to happen to God’s people. It says in Esther 5:2, “And so it was, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the scepter.” This illustration of Ahasuerus’ mercy toward Esther was meant to display God’s pleasure with her self-sacrifice. Although it was true that the king could have killed Esther for her disobedience, God protected her because she was willing to risk her life to save his people.

Found out

In spite of king Ahab’s bad influence on the people in his kingdom, there were 7,000 Israelites that remained faithful to God (1 Kings 19:18). One of those men, Naboth the Jezreelite, lived next door to Ahab’s secondary residence where his wife Jezebel lived. Naboth lived on a plot of land  that had been occupied by his family for hundreds of years, perhaps since the Israelites entered the Promised Land. As if it were a trivial matter, “Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money” (1 Kings 21:2).

Naboth refused to give the land to Ahab because it was his inheritance. In other words, Ahab had no legal claim to the land. Naboth was honoring God by refusing to give Ahab the hereditary property that was supposed to stay within his family. Ahab’s reaction shows that he was upset, but intended to abide by Naboth’s decision (1 Kings 21:4). Then Jezebel stepped in and took matters into her own hands, “So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in the city, dwelling with Naboth” (1 Kings 21:8).

Jezebel’s action to take control of the situation was probably typical behavior for her. She was able to get the elders and nobles to do what she wanted, which was break the law and lie about Naboth committing a sin so that he could be stoned to death. Jezebel manipulated the Israelite legal system in order to accomplish her own selfish purposes. Although Ahab was willing to accept Naboth’s refusal, Jezebel was not.

When Ahab went down to the vineyard of Naboth to take possession of it, Elijah was there waiting for him. “And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the LORD” (1 Kings 21:20). Ahab’s question to Elijah might have been expressed, have you found out what I have done or are you here to accuse me of a crime? Ahab had been caught red handed stealing Naboth’s property. No matter what he did to try and talk his way out of it, king Ahab was found out. He was guilty of letting Jezebel rule God’s kingdom.

Surprisingly, Ahab didn’t argue with Elijah when confronted with his sin. Elijah’s reference to Ahab having sold himself to work evil in essence meant that Ahab was unable to say no to his wife Jezebel and therefore, was under the power of Satan. It says in 1 Kings 21:27, “when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly.” Ahab repented of his sin and because he humbled himself before the LORD, God forgave him.

Laws of nature

When calamity or an unexpected event occurs, it might feel like our lives have been turned upside down. It says in Psalm 146:9, “The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.” The word translated way, derek means a road, but figuratively it can mean “a course of life or mode of action” (1870). God often intervenes in our lives to draw us closer to him and to make us aware that our actions are inappropriate or going to get us into trouble.

God’s judgement is good in that it shows us that we belong to him. It says in Psalm 147:20, “He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgements, they have not known them.” Only Israel has had the privilege of receiving God’s commandments. The Bible would not exist unless God had communicated with his people and helped them to understand his way of doing things.

Even though we may not like God’s way of doing things, it is not optional. It says in Psalm 148:6, “He hath made a decree which shall not pass.” The word translated decree, choq (khoke) means an enactment. God’s laws were enacted at the time of creation, but were not revealed to man until much later. God did not make up the ten commandments when he gave them to Moses, they had already been operating since the beginning of time.

Do you really believe?

The Mosaic law was a template for success. David modeled how the law could be used to transform a person’s life into the ideal God intended. What David understood was that he needed salvation. A sacrifice had to be made in order for his sins to be permanently blotted out, erased from God’s record book.

Initially, the law was given to the Israelites as a means of understanding the ways of God. It was delivered to Moses by the hand of God and could be the only document that was a personal communication from the creator of the universe to man.

David said, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly nor standith in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2). The law or torah in Hebrew, “signifies primarily direction, teaching, instruction” (8451). It wasn’t meant to be a set of rules and regulations. “The law of God is that which points out or indicates His will to man” (8451).

Many people seek the will of God as if it is a mystery, something too difficult for the average person to understand or comprehend. God’s will is plain and simple and can be discovered very easily if you really want to know the truth.

Knowing something and doing it are two different things. Once a person knows the truth, he must act on it. The key to action is trust. David said, “Blessed are all they that put their trust in him” (Psalm 2:12). David was speaking of the Son or heir to his throne, the Messiah that would one day rule over all of God’s kingdom. Christ fulfilled the law by completing God’s plan of salvation. When we put our trust in him, we are saved.

David said, “He that doeth these things shall never be moved” (Psalm 15:5). David was talking about the man that speaks truth in his heart. What David meant was being consistent in what you do and what you say you believe. Our beliefs and actions are always consistent, but sometimes we say we believe something and our actions prove otherwise. When our actions are aligned with God’s law, his will for our lives, we will be blessed, but more important than that, we will not waver in doing what God asks us to do. Jesus believed he was the savior of the world and his death on the cross proved it.