“Then [Ezra] told them, Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet drink, and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. And be not grieved and depressed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and stronghold.” Nehemiah 8:10 Amplified
I have always loved the story of Nehemiah. I believe his journey is a strategy for the church in every season. Imagine how he felt when he looked at Jerusalem. He knew her as God’s city, the people as God’s people, and yet here this beautiful city of promise has her walls and gates laying in ruins. She is anything but what she was intended to be. To anyone looking on, she was a failure, and the people of promise had become people of captivity to a Babylonian empire instead of being the people of liberty that they were called to be. Sound familiar?
For seventy years Jerusalem remained in this state. Then at God’s appointed time, He raises up Nehemiah as a voice to a generation who had lost sight that God had more than captivity and ruins for them. He leads a group of people from despair back to confidence in God and His plan for their lives. What was an overwhelming situation of hopelessness and despair, in 52 days become a place of hope and renewed confidence. Seventy years of loss was being restored as one man leads a few of God’s people to stand up and make a difference.
A wall rebuilt, lives restored, and the Word is being read publicly! The people’s hearts are overwhelmed and they begin to weep. In this moment, they are told not to be grieved over the past failure, over the years lost, but to celebrate in the God who has rescued them. Ezra says, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” How that is really written in the Hebrew is, “Your joy of Yahweh is your strength.”
There is still work to be done for Jerusalem to be all that she is supposed to be, the enemies are working overtime to discourage and distract them from their success. Yet, they have a reason to be joyful. It isn’t in their ability, their efforts, or the amount they accomplish that day. The level of their joy in God determines their strength and power to overcome. Their joy in God is their refuge.
You can be sure that in this moment for those who had been captive that their hearts were overwhelmed with gratitude for God hearing them and making a way for them to start again.
Have you ever met a person who was joyful in God and ungrateful at the same time? You cannot joy in God and not be overwhelmingly grateful. If my joy in God is my refuge and strength, which produces a heart of gratitude, what does ingratitude say about me? I believe it says that my joy is not in God. Likely I am looking for answers in the wrong places. Am I hanging out in places of captivity instead of places of deliverance, restoration, and rebuilding? It might be time to change mental locations and really see, that true joy in God always produces a grateful heart.
Today I am grateful that despite the mess that sometimes surrounds me, God is a rebuilder and restorer of all things. I am thankful that even in my failures, or the church’s failures, we still have a bright future in Christ. He is building His church and the gates of hell will never overcome it. It is a good day, true joy is producing in us true gratitude.
Susan Craig says:February 17, 2015 at 3:33 pm
The joy of the Lord is your strength-I remember singing this statement and have heard it many times but never knew where it was in the Bible til now. I too like the book of Nehemiah-I read it through last evening and was touched by how persistant this man was in his mission to get the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt and how God restored the nation after a long period of exile. The hope in this story is that God is actively involved the restoration of His people enabling their cities,homes and their lives to be rebuilt, to regain focus and regeneration. No matter how far His people had strayed from Him, He was (and is) always willing to restore them when they return to Him in repentance and humility. I think back to times in my life when I strayed from Him and rejoice in how quickly He was willing to forgive and restore me into relationship with Him once more when I returned to Him broken,humble and spent. This to me is the reason to rejoice. Like the prodical son, the Father is always eager to have His children return to Him and restore the relationship that had drifted. Restoration is always a happy occasion and the joy experienced is extremely uplifting and strengthening to enable us to be mobilized to continue on in our journey renewed in fellowship with the Lord and renewed in purpose. Away from the source of our strength is weakening. God does not force His people to love Him and serve Him and He allows us to wander away when we are determined to do so-but how it pains His heart as He watches and waits for us to come to our senses and return to Him!! When we are not actively abiding in the vine, we do eventually learn that there is no true joy or strength apart from Him. We are weak but He is strong. He is the source of our strength. He is the power we need in order to be strong in purpose and committed to His will. The Joy of the Lord is our strength.
Thank you Lord for always being ready, willing and able to welcome Your lost sheep back to the fold. Thank you that You are in the restoration business and that You are always waiting for Your wandering children to come to their senses and return to relationship with You. The joy we experience when we are restored into fellowship enables us to move forward with You and in Your strength which is more than adequate for us to continue the journey and cross the finish line.
Pat McRae says:February 17, 2015 at 3:52 pm
Nehemiah 8:10 Message “Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink and share it with those who don’t have anything. This day is holy of God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of the Lordis your strength.”
My first thought and only thought was, “Wow, Ya! party time!” But then I started to wonder: why a party time with special holiday food? Why are they told not to feel bad? Why has God called this day a holy day? (Kind of neat I just saw how holiday equals holy day. I know a little slow on the up take but so thrilled I finally saw it 🙂 ) Well this verse does not answer any of these questions nor does it answer this one: why do they need to be reminded joy equals strength? So I decided to look at the verses before and after this one, to read different translations and commentaries. And I found a few of the answers.
It is party time because God is rejoicing in heaven that His people have finally asked for the Law of Moses to be read in their hearing. And not only is it read but it is explained as well. And just like today when someone starts to expound the Word of God to us we rejoice at the insights but are sorrowful for how we see where we have sinned. His people, the ones He loves so much have seen their errors and realized their sins have separated them from God. They have repented with tears and come back to God., the only true God. Hallelujah! They have bowed with their heads to the ground to worship Him and He has received their worship as a sweet sacrifice. Now He wants them to rejoice. But their guilt, shame and condemnation is holding them back. There have been enough tears, He is satisfied because He see hearts returning to Him. So He calls for a feast, a great big feast. They are to have the best, just like they will have at the ‘Supper of the Lamb’ and they are to make their wine sweet. (Apparently a favourite party wine was sweetened with honey, one commentary said) But the people needed to be encouraged by Levites that this was God’s request, so go and enjoy! And to make sure they understand it is to be a joyful time they are reminded that the joy that God gives is going to be their strength.
I am thankful today that I do not need anyone to read the Scriptures to me, because God allowed me to be privileged to be born in a country at a time when every child could learn to read. And to live in a country where I can have multiple Bibles openly. I am thankful for all those over the years who have expounded the Word of God to me, so I could understand the hidden treasures. I am also thankful for the times the Holy Spirit has shown me something so awesome and helped me to share it with others. I am most thankful today that I neither live in condemnation, shame, or guilt for my sins, because Jesus made sure they were all nailed to the cross with Him. He took care of it for me because He knew I could not do it for myself. I thank God for the Holy Spirit Who convicts me when I miss the mark and leads me back when I wander off the narrow path. I am thankful my joy is found in Christ Jesus and He is my strength!
I feel like having a party!
I will celebrate and worship the King tonight at church, yes I will join the party in heaven as we praise and worship the One who is worthy to receive all honour, praise and glory,
Sue Holmes says:February 18, 2015 at 1:09 am
One man’s heart was broken for the city of God and for the people of God. Nehemiah saw the brokeness of both the city & the people. He went to his Father, God, and pleaded on behalf of the people and then he asked permission and prepared to leave the luxury & comfort of the palace to live among the people and rebuild Jerusalem.
One man, anointed & appointed by God, brought hope back to a broken people. Nehemiah reminded them of what & who they had been born for. By coming along side, working with the people & encouraging them, he was able to raise them up to be a people filled with confidence. But they had also turned from being a broken down people to being broken & humbled people. Our enemy strives to break us down, but God takes broken down people & lifts them up to where they can once again see Him. It is when we get our eyes off our situation and onto our Saviour that ‘broken down’ becomes ‘lifted up’. And with the right attitude, this lifted up people became a humbled people.
The people weeped at the reading of God’s word that was hidden from them for so long. It was like streams of fresh water in a parched desert land. They couldn’t help but weep.
Enthusiasm for God’s Word is a rare thing these days. How often have I let ‘things’ get in the way of His word? Too much so. And ironically, this very thing that we find so easy to let drop is the very source of strength and courage. “The joy of the Lord is our strength. Thank you so much for showing us how this is in Hebrew… “Your joy of Yahweh is your strength.” This puts the onus on me. I must make the decision to find joy in God. How did the Israelites find joy in Yahweh? It came through the reading of the Word. The Word of God brought back to the people initiated praise & worship. The Word brought the people to their knees in worship.
I am thankful tonight that God’s Word left the palace of Heaven and came to live among us. I am thankful that He still takes broken-down people and lifts us up. I am thankful for modern day Nehemiah’s who seek God’s direction for His people. I am thankful for our Pastor whose desire is to see God’s Church lifted up and taking the place God intended. I am thankful for the many sacrifices she has made because of her obedience & love for God. I am thankful that God’s Word and His presence brings joy unlike anything this world can bring and is made so readily avaialble. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I am thankful for the brave lives and witness of my brothers & sisters overseas who have had their temporal live taken from them because of their love for the eternal God. I am thankful and I am humbled.