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Distinguishing God’s Voice

The question is how do you distinguish God’s voice from voices that reek of negativity, discouragement, failure, guilt, shame, and condemnation?


Nehemiah 8: “And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.


And 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 wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.


On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. And they found it written in the Law that the Lord had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.” (ESV)


Have you ever wondered if you are truly hearing God’s voice? A few years ago, I took an American team with me to Pakistan. The husband of one of our team members worked for the U.S. Embassy. During the trip, one Pakistani woman came up to me and told me that God had spoken to her and said that He wanted us to get her a visa to visit the U.S.


It was easy to decipher that this was probably not God’s voice because everyone wants a U.S. visa, but there are times when it is not that simple. It is in those moments that spiritual bullies intimidate us and feed on our guilt and fear in the name of God. However, if we know how to distinguish God’s voice from all other voices including our own, we will not fail.


When God first laid holy discontent on Nehemiah’s heart, he began to help God’s people distinguish God’s voice from the voices of discouragement, those of outsiders like Sanballat and his cronies, and the voices of lies from within, those of nobles, officials, and even the prophets. Now, in Nehemiah 8 God’s people moved from building the wall for God to being built up by God so that they can distinguish God’s voice from all other voices for themselves.


Every believer has the responsibility of learning to distinguish God’s voice from other voices, including their own. The question is how do you distinguish God’s voice from voices that reek of negativity, discouragement, failure, guilt, shame, and condemnation?


Nehemiah 8 provides three conditions that can enable us to distinguish God’s voice from other voices: our desire to hear God’s Word, to understand it, and to respond to it.


Desire to Hear God’s Word


Distinguishing God’s voice depends on our desire to hear God’s Word. Verse 1 says, “And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.” Notice that the people as one desired to hear God’s Word.


Also, notice a huge shift in the book. In the first seven chapters, Nehemiah led in the physical restoration, and in the next few chapters, Ezra would lead in the spiritual restoration. In verses 2-6, we learn three principles regarding desiring to hear God’s word, which leads to distinguishing God’s voice.


The first principle is to commit to reading God’s Word intensively in search of truth. Verse 2 says, “So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday…”


Did you catch that? Ezra read from early morning until noon. That was about six hours. For preachers, this verse is a dream, but for congregants, this verse is a nightmare. Can you imagine listening to a sermon for six hours?


The second principle is to commit to reading God’s Word attentively in search of truth. The second half of verse 3 says, “in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.


The phrase, “those who could understand,” refers to youth and children. God’s Word is the same but our understanding of it demands some mental maturity. My six-year-old son literally led a Bible study at his overnight camp, but I cannot expect the same from my two-year-old twin girls. This is why in our church we have programs for all ages so that without compromising the Word of God we can teach the Word according to their mental development.


Notice that it also says that they were listening attentively. Today even adults do not have that kind of focus and attention span, yet in my church I see youth and children sitting and hearing the Word of God. This means their parents have done a good job training them to hear the Word of God.


The third principle is to commit to honoring God’s Word intentionally in search of truth. Verses 4-6 say, “And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose … And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” That is intentionally honoring God’s Word, and for this purpose they built the wooden platform. Notice it even includes that Ezra opened the book. Opening God’s Word is the first step toward hearing God.


A few years back I decided to attend a Sunday service at a very well-known church in Manhattan. I was shocked that the preacher did not even open the Bible. He never read the Word of God once. I am not against motivational talks full of encouragement, but the pulpit is about God and His Word. No man, no matter how smart, eloquent, or godly can ever change lives, only God’s Word can. This is why we go through verse by verse.


I always appreciate when members of my congregation tell me that they felt that I was talking to them during a sermon. It means that God’s Word is doing its job because I am not that smart and I will eventually run out of ideas, but God knows exactly what we need and when we need it and through His Word, He speaks to us.


What is the application? If you want to hear God’s voice take the initiative and commit to reading the Word of God regularly, carefully, and intentionally in search of the truth. When you read God’s Word, you honor God and in return, God honors you by speaking to you.


Desire to Understand God’s Word


The second condition that can enable us to distinguish God’s voice from other voices is our desire to understand God’s Word. Verses 7-8 tells us that the Levites “…helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”


Verses 2-3 were about the cognitive ability to understand God’s Word but verses 7-8 are about the spiritual maturity to understand God’s Word. Notice two principles for understanding God’s Word here:


1) It must be read clearly, and

2) it must be explained accurately.


For that, we need exegesis, which draws out what the Biblical text teaches in its original, historical context, as opposed to eisegesis, where preachers read meaning into the Scriptures disregarding its original historical context. The burden falls on the teacher who is explaining. If you go away from here wondering what was preached today, that is not on you, that is on me unless you were on your phone checking your social media feed or playing some game. Reader, a lack of understanding of God’s Word leads to confusion and our God is not a God of confusion.


What is the application here? Honor God’s Word by opening it and reading it carefully to understand what it meant to the original audience in its original context and then determine what it means to us today. Sometimes a desire to understand God’s Word means having the humility to ask others to explain God’s Word to you. If you cannot find a Bible teacher, ask the teacher of us all, the Holy Spirit, and He will teach you.


Desire to Respond to God’s Word


The third and final condition that can enable us to distinguish God’s voice from other voices is our desire to respond to God’s Word. We see in verses 9-18, the reading and understanding of God’s Word produced a response in God’s people.


In verse 9, they mourned over their sinfulness: “And 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 wept as they heard the words of the Law.” They were devastated over the fact that they sinned against the holy God.


In verses 10-18, they celebrated God’s faithfulness: Ezra the priest in verses 10-11 negates their mournful response and calls for celebration by saying “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength. So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” In verse 12, they did as they were told.


In verse 13 on the second day, they came back to hear more of God’s Word, and in verse 14 they discovered the command to celebrate the feast of booths in Deuteronomy 16:16. In verses 16-17 they celebrated the feast of booths to remember how God delivered them from the bondage of Egypt and led them through the wilderness. Chapter 8 closes with verse 18: “And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he [Ezra] read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.”


In the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, when the prodigal son repented, we read the father’s response in verses 23-24. He said “And bring the fattened calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” Celebration is God’s response to our response to His voice in God’s Word.


The application here is to see that when God’s Word confronts us, it is to convict us and not condemn us. When we confess and repent in mourning and weeping God memorializes it with a celebration of salvation because any time anywhere anyone is saved there is a celebration in heaven. But it grieves God when anyone anywhere dies without coming to Jesus.


Once a young man came to a pastor and said, “Pastor, you said to read the Bible in search of truth, and the truth shall set me free. But I am afraid it is not working because I am feeling worse than ever before.”

The pastor smiled and said, “If you are feeling worse that means the Word of God is working, and your salvation is near.”


Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” When we read God’s Word, understand God’s Word, and respond to God’s Word it enables us to hear God’s voice loud and clear in all matters of life.


In the Book of Nehemiah, for 141 years God’s people heard all sorts of voices from all directions. Imagine hearing day in and day out for 141 years that you are nothing and you are not good enough. I tell you it does not take too long before you begin to believe such lies.


Some of you have bought into that lie too. Perhaps you have convinced yourself that you are not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, spiritual enough, etc. Do whatever you do but do not let the lies of the world dictate who you are.

You are who the Word of God says you are in Jesus.

You are God’s most precious possession in Jesus.

You are a new creation in Jesus.

You are a child of God, a branch of the true vine, a friend of Jesus.

You are completely justified and fully redeemed in Jesus.

You are an heir and co-heir with Jesus.

You are a sanctified saint set apart for Jesus.

You are the dwelling place of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.

You are a member of the body of Jesus, a witness of Jesus, an ambassador of Jesus.


In Jesus, you are the righteousness of God.

In Jesus, you are chosen, elected, and saved eternally.

In Jesus, you are adopted, redeemed, and forgiven eternally.

In Jesus, you are made alive and sealed with the Holy Spirit eternally.

In Jesus, you are preserved to be citizens of heaven for His eternal glory and majesty.


How do I know all that? Because that’s what the Word of God teaches. When you open the Word of God, it opens you to the marvelous truths of God. But for all that to be yours, the Word of God says you must be saved. If you are not saved or have doubts, Romans 10:9 teaches that “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”


The action I want you to take is this: Open and commit to reading God’s Word daily in search of truth personally and as a family and invite others on this journey to hear God’s voice.


For the full sermon click here.

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