Read Nehemiah 8:4-8. How was the reading of the Law done?
There were two groups of 13 men who stood with Ezra during the reading. The first group of 13 (Neh. 8:4) helped to read the Word of God, and the second group of 13 (Neh. 8:7) helped with the understanding of the passages. We do not have any information about how this arrangement worked in the open square; however, the men who helped with the reading possibly held the Torah (Hebrew scrolls were heavy and needed to be unrolled by others) as well as read from it successively, alternating between the readers.
Because they were reading from morning until midday, they had figured out a way to reach everyone in the square.
The phrases “they gave the sense” and “helped the people to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:8, NKJV) can either refer to interpretation or translation of the passages. Both are just as likely in this instance. The people had returned from Babylon, where they had lived for many years, and the primary language there was Aramaic. Therefore, hearing the Hebrew reading may not have been easy to understand for many, especially the younger generations. At the same time, readers of the Bible can benefit from explanation or commentary. Preaching and explanation make the text come alive and press hearers to apply the information personally.
Read Acts 8:26-38. What happened here that parallels what was happening in Jerusalem in the texts above? What lessons are here for us?
As Protestants, we understand that individual believers must know the Word of God for themselves, and that we must not blindly accept anyone else’s word on biblical truth, regardless of their authority. At the same time, who hasn’t been blessed by having someone help explain the meaning of texts? We need, each one of us, to know what we believe for ourselves, but this doesn’t mean that, at times, we can’t be enlightened by the teachings of others.