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In the eighth chapter of the book of Nehemiah, following the completion of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, all the people of Israel (men, women and children who are old enough to understand) assemble in Jerusalem in the square before the Water Gate. Ezra the scribe brings out the Book of the Law of Moses, and standing on a high wooden platform, he reads to the people from daybreak till noon, while all the people stand and listen attentively.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a long time to stand up. A very long morning, indeed.
Then, Scripture tells us, the Levites, who were also there, explained God’s Word to the people so that they could understand it. Because, you know, they didn’t have family Bibles sitting around on their coffee tables. They didn’t have Bible book stores where they could go and purchase their own copies. So, they listened attentively. And apparently, what this produced in them was weeping.
So much so that Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe and the Leviites had to tell them to knock it off and settle down.
Verse 9 says, “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.”
That must have been quite a sound, all those people weeping and wailing.
And then in verse 10:
“Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Isn’t that a beautiful phrase, “the joy of the Lord is your strength”?
I’ve always loved the way that sounds.
And then Twila Paris wrote that song about it that we sang at my church for years. It’s a happy little ditty, and I still really like it.
But as I’ve meditated on that phrase, “the joy of the Lord is your strength”, I think there might be an additional meaning to it other than, “I belong to God, He belongs to me, and that makes me happy, so I’m happy in Him.”
Now that’s a good meaning, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
But there could be more as well.
If you think about the verse contextually, what’s been going on in these people’s lives? Many of them have returned from exile to live in Jerusalem, after their parents and grandparents were carted off to Babylon. They have been working hard to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem, despite much opposition in the form of threats and malicious, scoffing words from their adversaries. They have assembled to reaffirm their faith in God and to obediently celebrate one of God’s sacred feasts called for in the Book of the Law of Moses.
Wouldn’t hearts set on obeying Him bring joy to the Father’s heart?
So, yes, there IS joy in knowing that we belong to Him and that is joy in the Lord.
But whose joy is being mentioned here? Is it the joy of the Israelites? Or is it the joy of the Lord? Might this verse be referring to the joy we give our Father when we do what He calls us to do? And when He is pleased with our obedience, and we know we’re doing what Paul calls in Ephesians 2:10 the “good works which God prepared in advance for us to do”, don’t we find His strength buoying us up, and giving us what we need to go on?
Just a thought for those of us who are struggling to keep going right now. Maybe you’ve been called to do something that is just about to wear you out.
Stop for a moment, and feel His pleasure.
I can beat myself up every which way better than anyone else I know.
Yes, when I hear God’s Word, and I look at the myriad ways in which I don’t measure up, it makes me want to weep, too. Sometimes, I do. And there’s a place for godly sorrow that leads to repentance.
But there’s also a time to just celebrate the fact that I AM His, and He IS mine, and there ARE areas where by His grace, and empowered by His Spirit, I’ve been obedient. And let His joy in me, His child, and His pleasure in me fill me up and give me the strength I need to keep going.
So, that’s my prayer for you and me today. May we feel His joy, His pleasure in us, and find that strength that we need to keep on keeping on.
Thank You, Father for Your grace, and Your love, and Your joy, and Your strength.