Recently our church family was introduced to a piece of ecclesiastical furniture we had not seen before – a retired lectern of oak, redeemed at minimum cost from a chapel store room, that replaced the collapsible music stand from which we had received God’s word for many a year. I introduced it as follows:
Before your eyes
this sight behold!
Here is a reading desk of oak
that’s not intended as a joke
as you will now be told:
It’s a podium with purpose.
I briefly explained this purpose by quoting a few words from Nehemiah 8:1-18 –
‘all the people gathered as one … [a]nd told Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses. … So Ezra … read from it … before the assembly. … And the ears of all the people were attentive to the book. … And Ezra stood on a wooden podium [New American Standard Bible] that they had made for the purpose’ (Nehemiah 8:1-4).
So what was the podium’s purpose?
I discovered that the Hebrew word for ‘podium’ or ‘platform’ means ‘tower’. No wonder then that the next verse reads:
‘And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people. For he was above all the people … [even when] as he opened it all the people stood’ (Nehemiah 8:5).
Nowadays in the Western world we sit to hear God’s word, but each listener must still stand to attention by an attitude of heart to get the full benefit of the public reading and interpreting of Holy Scripture. Let us ever bear in mind that ‘you have exalted above all things your name and your word’ (Psalm 138:2).
The task of teachers is that of Ezra’s Levite assistants here in verse Nehemiah 8:8
‘They read from the book clearly and they gave the meaning so that the people understood the reading’ (Nehemiah 8:8).
Thus Ezra helped to encourage the remnant of God’s people who had returned from exile to pursue their vision of the restoration of God’s kingdom for the coming of the King – who would initiate his ministry in a similar event (see Luke 4:16-27).
In church gatherings today we can be in danger of preaching only on ‘topical issues’ with a smattering of Bible quotations, or we can be served a diet consisting of a surfeit of testimonies, while forgetting that, after all, ‘testimonies’ is a word often used in the Good Book itself for the written records of God’s dealings with his people and with those who have ignored him or opposed his purposes.
* I issue a plea for expressive public reading of God’s word, lucid interpretation and practical application to real life situations that we currently may have to face.