9 Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then Ezra said to them, “Go [your way], eat the rich festival food, drink the sweet drink, and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be worried, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and your stronghold.”Nehemiah 8 (AMP)
Why were they weeping? And, before I submit my thoughts to any commentary, I want to start answering this question. People were weeping when they heard the words of the Law. From what I gathered, Israel is scattered under another’s territory; they do not have a place of their own because of their ancestors’ disobedient choices. They have no understanding of who they serve and who they are: basically, a lost identity. They do not know what God required of them. They live in a time where they can serve Him and other gods. They can intermarry with God’s blessing (time-sensitive law). The original law seems to be blurred and they have no discernment.
Ezra the priest enters in with some assistants to read and explain the Word of God to the people. As understanding settles in, they begin to realize how far off they were in following God’s Word. So they wept, because they thought they were living like God’s people, but they only wore the elegant royalties of it (“we are God’s people”) yet having no authority. Kind of like how young child may put on mom’s dress, mom’s lipstick, mom’s heels and jewelry, but not ever taken seriously as a mother. It’s just a child in ill-fitting clothes and they realized that they were foolish pretenders.
With the use of Matthew Henry’s commentary, I have found that:”people were wounded with the words of the law that were read to them…Therefore when they heard it they all wept (Neh. 8:9): it was a good sign that their hearts were tender, like Josiah’s when he heard the words of the law. They wept to think how they had offended God, and exposed themselves, by their many violations of the law; when some wept all wept, for they all saw themselves guilty before God.”Also, Barnes’ notes:”The people wept … – Because the Law brought vividly before them their sins of omission and commission.”And Antique Commentary’s notes:”The people sorrowed (Neh_8:9) because they had not kept the Law: they now rejoiced because they were able to understand it.”
Upon reading this, it seems that Israel perhaps even forgot who they were altogether. It seems like they might not have been pretending at all but totally in the dark. They were blind. The point is.. God would have them see. I think that’s why Ezra and Nehemiah were telling them rejoice! Have joy in the Lord again. Remember Him as your God and how good He is! Turn to Him again. Don’t live as captives anymore. You don’t have to pretend. Come to me. I think in the same way as if a child ever gotten into trouble, like running into the street, she could run back to her arms and be safe again.
God gave them a reason to not weep anymore: all of Himself. His desire? Them and nothing less. So why were they weeping again?