Ever hear, watch or read something juuusst slightly different, to where it causes your head tilt to the side as if in great contemplation? Your eyes narrow, your hand begins to slip upward as to ask a question? THIS is where I have been the last few days as I have been studying the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Where, you say? Yep, couple of small books of the Old Testament. You may recognize the verse, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” This is found in Nehemiah 8:10. In my study I have come to an interesting conclusion of this verse. May I share it with you, hang tight with me, you too may tilt your head. My text is Nehemiah chapter 8. When time permits, I encourage you to read both books.
I find it interesting that public reading of the scriptures was REQUIRED by law every 7 years, (WOW!) but due to the Israelites captivity (shame on those Babylonian dudes) it had been neglected. No wonder the people stood up when the Book was cracked open ~ they praised and went to worshipping face down to the ground. It had been Y-E-A-R-S. I can’t imagine years without hearing or reading the Word.
There were no daily emails waiting for them in their inbox from a Christian website, no texted encouraging verse beeping at them. No Kindles, leather-bound copies, or LARGE print for that matter (thank God for large print). Hearing God’s word brought such conviction that they were grieved beyond measure. Over the years of captivity they had not sought relationship with their God – they just ‘went’. Without much choice, they went where they were told, did as commanded, yet allowed a deaf ear to fall on their hearts. The reading/hearing of God’s word had awaken something inside them, deep inside them.
Verse 9-11 (chapter 8 Neh.) “Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 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.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.”
The day was sacred, God had showed up. He was pleased with the return to Jerusalem, rebuilding the temple and wall. Now as the people gathered in unity, His word was again being read … considered and listening to. God is pleased.
Grieving for that culture was MUCH different from ours. We grieve primarily in quiet. THEIR grieving could lend towards a more violent mourning. The word Ezra uses to describe here means to WAIL, bitter intense weeping, in pain or humiliation. The practice was ripping of clothing with loud crying. The folks were getting serious about their ‘discomfort’ of heart. Hm… do WE allow ourselves discomfort of heart? (read that again) We are so over stimulated with life these days, the loudness of life, the busy-ness of life, and may I add the ‘technology’ of life, do we slow down enough to consider that slight twinge we feel of spirit? Oh, we may define it as “I’m just a bit off these days.” Could that ‘off’ be the nudge of heart, the brush of HIS hand across our soul? The Holy whisper in our ear. I am trying (emphasis ‘trying’) to learn to respond to that nudge. Because I can assure you, for me at least, that nudge can turn to an all out swift kick. God loves us THAT much. (just sayin)
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” We use this verse in a huge variety of circumstances. When we are down “… the joy of the Lord is your strength.” When we are walking through a tough time, and we want to be happy, it again rolls off our tongue. When reading a commentary on the book of Nehemiah awhile back, the author, a Hebrew by birth and scholar stated that the verse is taken out of context much of the time, now in my own study of the books of Ezra/Nehemiah I too am persuaded this way.
May I offer (not doctrine or fine print deep theological interpretation) just an observation. In my own small mind, I would render that this verse to imply, the ‘joy’ is not ours, but Gods. God is so stinkin pleased with the Israelites at this point. They have returned, they worked alongside one another to rebuild. They rebuilt the Temple. When rebuilding the wall, each man took his place, did his part. While one built, others stood watch and protected. Unity. Then the Law was pulled out, at the people’s request (see verse 1). Their response? Worship. Humility. True sorrow, and grief.
Nehemiah, (in my opinion) tells them, “Folks, stop grieving, yes you are humbled to be in God presence and hear His Word again, but God is pleased. Get up off your faces (v. 6) His joy over you is great, find strength in His joy. Now go, enjoy the Feast of Trumpets, eat and share with others.” This is what the Holy Spirit has been ‘nudging’ me of recent. That I too, when I lay my head on my pillow at night, desire – long – NEED to know, that my God is pleased with me. Today did I love God, His people, His stuff? Is He pleased with me, is His joy over me great? I don’t think this in a condemning way, only as a ‘holy thermometer‘. May I be strengthened, knowing that my obedience was spot on, my responses good and my motives pure. Sure, I may have ‘missed the mark’ today, but His mercies are new each morning. Tomorrow when I wake, the first thing off my spiritual tongue, “May I bring you joy today Lord.”
May we too experience the reading/hearing of God’s Word, having it awaken something inside us, deep inside us. It is a must, that we allow ourselves to sense God’s nudging. Oh, we too could find ourselves face down on the ground in worship in complete humility. May we long to please our God, finding strength in His joy.
It is indeed a spiritual cycle, we ask God for His strength and might and abounding grace to live a life to bring Him glory, we find strength in His joy.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds.” ~ Heb. 10:24)
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