Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 10, 1955

Righting An Ancient Wrong


When Nehemiah and Ezra had completed the building of the walls of Jerusalem, the people asked that the "law" might be read in their hearing. Ezra, who was both a priest and a scribe, brought out the law and read it before the entire congregation. "And they found written in the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month.And all the congregation of them that were come again out of captivity made booths, and sat tinder the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness." (Neh. 8:14-17.)

Nearly a thousand years had passed since the days of Joshua. Israel had come to the zenith of her glory, both politically and religiously. For over four hundred years under the judges, then for one hundred twenty years under Saul, David, and Solomon; then the period of the divided kingdom, followed by the Babylonian captivity, and now the restoration — for all these years Israel had NOT obeyed the clear injunction of the Lord concerning the dwelling in booths "in the feast of the seventh month." Yet when Ezra read these words from the law of the Lord, there was an immediate and unanimous willingness to accept them, to correct an error which was hoary with age. "So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim."

Here we find one of the noblest traits of the human heart — and one of the rarest. How difficult it is to break with the customs and traditions of the past! Let some practice be carried on without protest or objection for twenty or thirty years, and it becomes well-nigh impossible to root it out, or to put something in its place. Human nature in its lazy and satisfied way tends to believe that what has been done is right, what has not been done is wrong; and for a man to question a practice of the past marks him as a "trouble maker" and a "fanatic."

There must be millions of people today who are members of the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and scores of other denominations solely because they were reared in such institutions; and have never taken the trouble to investigate the Word of God relative to the distinctive teachings of these churches. They accept what has been. They are often resentful of any attempt to bring them to a fair and open study of the Bible teaching on such subjects as baptism, the one church, the Lord's Supper, and other disputed questions. It is so much easier simply to drift with the tide, just to accept the past, and refuse to question what the "great and noble men before us have done."

What a magnificent opportunity Israel had for such an attitude. The building of booths in the time of Ezra would be in a sense a reflection on the greatest prophets and teachers of Israel's history! How brash must have been the man who would dare to intimate that the mighty Elijah might have overlooked and neglected a clear commandment of the Lord! Not to mention the holy Isaiah, the great Jeremiah, and even David, the king, who was a man after God's own heart. Israel could appeal to nearly a thousand years of unbroken uniformity in the matter of NOT building the booths. Who was the "troubler of Israel" bold enough now to come forward and declare that Elijah, Eli, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Amos, Micah, Ezekiel, and Daniel had all been wrong in their failing to erect the booths? Surely if such a person should live in our day he would be immediately subject to "quarantine" as a crack-pot and a fanatic for daring to depart from the traditions and accepted practice of such a galaxy of holy men of God.

But Israel of Ezra's day was concerned with one thing and one thing only — they wanted to follow the law of God. It mattered not to them how venerable might be a usage, how encrusted over with pious acceptance might be a practice; if God's word authorized it, it was right; if God's word did not authorize it, it had no place in his service. It was as simple as that.

How sadly men of our day need this spirit and attitude. All questions of religious faith and practice are to be settled by an appeal to God's word. "What is written in the law? how readest thou?" A matter is not to be settled by tradition, or past practice, or by the faith of great and noble men of old; it is to be determined by the written teaching of the revealed will of God. There might be found a great host of noble men who have rejected immersion, and who have been completely satisfied with sprinkling; but that does not mean that sprinkling is acceptable in God's sight. The honest and good heart will not be satisfied until truth has been learned and obeyed.

This is the case as respects every single question of religion. Is it the organization of the church? her methods of doing benevolence? or evangelism? her discipline? her methods of raising money? It matters not what phase or item may be under study, the only safe road, the only right course is to do exactly what Israel did — find the precise teaching of God's law, and then obey.