This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!
Nehemiah 8:10b, NLT*
The joy of the Lord is your strength.
This is another verse I’ve relied on over the years. But if you look at the context for this verse, it doesn’t match how we often use it.
After some of the exiled Israelites returned to rebuild the Temple, Nehemiah was sent by God to oversee rebuilding the protective wall around Jerusalem. By this chapter, the Temple and wall are both standing, and the people have done some cleaning up of their lives, too.
All the way through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah I see cues of God’s work in the people’s hearts: motivating them to return to their homeland, to give financially to the Temple’s reconstruction, to work on the wall. For those who’d stepped away, to give up their foreign (idol-worshipping) wives and stop charging interest on loans to their struggling countrymen.
Now in chapter 8, the people assemble and ask Ezra the scribe to read to them from the Law. God is drawing them – they want to know how to live in good relationship with Him.
I think that’s why Nehemiah encourages them to stop weeping and start celebrating.
Repentance means seeing what’s wrong in our lives, agreeing with God – and changing our direction and behaviour to line up with what He says. It’s one of those words that can make us cringe at the thought of fiery preachers or John the Baptist shouting at people and condemning their actions.
But here, the people have already repented. They’ve listened to God’s life-rules and they see where they’ve gone a different way. They’ve seen perfection and their own imperfection. They’re sorry for what they’ve done wrong. Maybe scared, too. God hauled the entire nation off to Babylon for 70 years because of repeated sin, and here they are, newly back in the land and already messing up. Will He send them away again? Or worse?
I wonder if they were also discouraged. How could they ever live up to God’s expectations in the Law? Maybe that’s why Nehemiah told them “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
His words have always struck me as encouraging, a promise of where our help comes from. Nehemiah says it here to a people weeping for their moral and spiritual weakness, and I think it’s to show that God’s strength is for more than rebuilding Temples and walls – it’s for rebuilding human lives. (Tweet this.)
Creator God, You are holy and just. We can’t stand in Your presence except through Jesus’ blood. We can’t please You on our own, but how grateful we are that the joy of You can be our strength, and Christ in us is our hope of glory. Draw us to live ever closer to You, in the light of Your love.
Brian Doerksen’s song “Welcome to the Place of Level Ground” celebrates God’s ultimate plan for salvation. Let it encourage you today.
*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.