Teaching the Law
“They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (v. 8).- Nehemiah 8:1–12
Although no one can obey the Ten Commandments or, indeed, any of God’s law perfectly, all of the Lord’s commandments still play a key role in the lives of sinners. God, in fact, wants the Ten Commandments “preached pointedly,” as question 115 of the Heidelberg Catechism explains. The answer to this question tells us why our Creator desires for His people to understand His statutes.
First, let us consider the biblical evidence that God wants church leaders to preach and teach His commandments. Today’s passage, for example, records Ezra’s reading of the Mosaic law to the Israelites after they returned from exile. The author clearly approves of this act, as well as the Levites’ explanation of God’s rules to Israel (Neh. 8:1–12). In reading the commandments, Ezra and the Levites fulfilled the command to preach and teach regularly the Mosaic law (Deut. 31:9–13). Moreover, lest we think that teaching the law of God was appropriate only under the old covenant, we must remember that the New Testament is filled with expositions of the Lord’s statutes. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus illustrates the proper application of God’s law (Matt. 5:17–48). Apostolic teaching assumes the abiding validity of the Ten Commandments (Rom. 13:9–10; James 2:8–13; 1 Peter 4:15).
But why does God want His law preached regularly under the new covenant? Today’s passage also helps answer this question. When Ezra read the commandments to the Israelites, “all the people wept” under conviction of their sin (Neh. 8:9). This covenant community included regenerate people, so we see the ongoing function of the law of God to remind us of our sin and weakness, and to drive us to repentance. The Lord’s commandments drive us to Christ when we are converted, but they continue to do so throughout our walk with Jesus as they confront us in our sin and point us to the cross for forgiveness (2 Sam. 12:1–15; Acts 15:10; Gal. 2:11–16; 3:24).
Believers who are confronted with their sin in the preaching of God’s law are never left to wallow in their misery. As the Spirit convicts us and drives us to the cross, He also assures us that we are free and forgiven in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:12–17; 1 John 1:8–9). In turn, this causes us to rejoice exceedingly, in greater measure than even the Israelites did when they were assured of their pardon.
Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage that “those who tremble at the convictions of the word may triumph in the consolation of it.” We can rejoice in the Lord’s grace and forgiveness only if we first understand our need for the gospel and His pardon. Many proclaim the wonders of God’s grace and their peace with the Lord without acknowledging their sin. Such individuals have a false peace and do not truly understand their need for the Lord’s work.
Passages for Further Study
2 Chronicles 34
1 Timothy 1:8–11