9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy 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. 10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:9-10 NIV
Have you ever waited for the joy of the Lord to come and be your strength? In my mind I understand the concept, but I want to know how it happens. Do I need to be quiet and pray? Do I need to do anything or just expect that it will come by faith? Is there a secret to living moment by moment with the joy of the Holy Spirit?
I offer to you today another way to interpret the verse which I feel fits the context of the passage. Let’s first see the context and then the application of the joy of the Lord is your strength.
The people, under the leadership of Nehemiah, were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Ezra the priest was helping them reestablish their worship with God. On this day, Ezra read from God’s word – probably the first five books of the Bible. The people stood all day long listening. Conviction fell upon their hearts because of the separation of the distance of holy living in proportion to God’s standards as described in the reading. They were weeping and mourning.
In contrast to weeping and mourning they were told to go and rejoice with a good meal. They were to share with others. The last instruction…do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is our strength
It is proper to grieve when conviction of our sins is brought to light. We recognize that we have chosen our own selfish ways and stiff armed God to the side. Repentance will include a contrition that our way was wrong and God’s ways are always true and right.
However, wallowing in our mess up of how bad we were, will not lead us through the door of forgiveness which is needed. Some grieving stays focused on ourselves and self pity. Some grieving focuses on how much we deserve the full discipline of God. Some grieving focuses on how much we deserve God’s wrath – although His children have escaped that wrath through Jesus Christ. Notice in each of these examples focus remains inward and looking at oneself. Focus only on my sinfulness will not lead to seeing the love of God the Father.
SO. my additional translation for the verse is, Do not grieve, for the REJOICING of the Lord is your strength. The Hebrew word joy means rejoicing or gladness as well as joy. I believe Nemehiah was instructing them to change their grieving over themselves into rejoicing of the Lord.
Do you catch the shift in nuance of meaning? In my past understanding of the phrase, I was waiting to receive something from God. He would give my joy and then I would be happy. Now I believe that I receive His joy as I participate in rejoicing in Him. It is an action that I need to take -rejoicing- in order to experience God’s strengthening in my life.
This rejoicing will start with gratefulness for His forgiveness and pursuing of His love toward me. This will include a shift from focusing on my sinfulness to the completeness of forgiveness of sin provided by the death of Jesus on the cross. My thoughts will move from navel gazing toward the heavenly redemption purchased before the foundation of the world. It’s no longer me as the focal point, rather I am looking at the author and the finisher of my faith.
As I enter into rejoicing in the faithfulness of God, my strength is restored to walk in HIs ways. Knowing that I am loved gives me strength. Walking in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit gives boldness to my life. Strength is tied to my engaging in rejoicing of the Lord.
Look at the audacity of King David in this verse about asking forgiveness for his adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband. Psalm 51 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. in the same breath, David admits the guilt of bloodshed and then asks for a tongue to sing about God’s righteousness. Many would probably call it hypocritical to move so fast to engage God. With blood on his hands does he have the right to stand before God and worship? He did not remain grieving about how bad he really was. The next verse continues the same thought. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. Rejoicing in God moves us through the door of forgiveness into fellowship in His presence.
I do believe joy is a real, tangible emotion from God. I want my life to be characterized by joy in all circumstances. I also believe that we have the privilege to choose rejoicing in the Lord to acquire strength to love God with all of our heart, mind and strength.
May you experience God’s fullness of joy in your life today. If there is an overwhelming issue which is heavy upon your heart- start rejoicing in the God of your salvation. Like David, ask for God to open your lips to declare His praise. Do this and see how God brings His strength into your life.
Joy is “happy peace”. Joy is “abiding hope”. Joy is the “sweetness of the presence of love”. Do not grieve. For the rejoicing of the Lord is your strength.
Blessings Love y’all