In Nehemiah 8:5, the priest Ezra gathered the people who had rebuilt Jerusalem’s wall for the reading of God’s law: “Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.” Some churches today follow this tradition and teach that we should stand when the Word of God is read.
Standing to hear the Bible read is certainly a sign of respect. Just as we stand when reciting the pledge of allegiance to show respect for the flag, and we stand when the national anthem is played to show respect for our country, many Christians stand for the reading of the Bible. However, there is no biblical command that teaches people must stand when Scripture is read. In fact, Ezra was not reading the Bible in a church. Ezra read from the Torah, standing on an outside platform in Jerusalem at a one-time event hundreds of years before the start of the church (see Acts 2). Though many positive principles can be gleaned from this passage, there is no explicit command to repeat this action during today’s church gatherings.
Further, the standing that took place in Nehemiah 8:5 did not last long. The following verse states, “Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” (Nehemiah 8:6).
Verses 7–8 add, “The Levites . . . instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” These men helped interpret and possibly translate the teachings of the Law to the people of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 8:12 says that the day Ezra read the Scriptures was a day of rejoicing: “Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” As Psalm 119:162 says, “I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure” (NLT).
In hearing God’s Word, the Israelites learned about the Feast of Booths. They chose to celebrate it for the first time since returning to Jerusalem. The feast lasted seven days, followed by a sacred day with no work.
Like the people of Judah during Ezra’s day, we should always show respect for the Word of God. Standing while it’s read is one way to show respect, but there are other ways. The best way to show respect for God’s Word is to heed it and allow it to change our lives. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).