of the Lord Is Your Strength"
To appreciate this message
we must understand where the Israelites are standing when they are told
"the joy of the Lord is your strength." In Nehemiah 8 the walls of Jerusalem
have just been completed. But there is something lacking. Life is more
than brick and mortar. They have finished rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem,
but their lives are in shambles. They have spent seventy years in Babylonian
captivity and they have finished the walls but their distress continues.
Their condition is revealed in the words of Nehemiah 9:36, "But see,
we are slaves today, slaves in the land you [God] gave our forefathers
so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. Because
of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed
over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We
are in great distress."
They had forgotten their
spiritual heritage as they were held captive in a foreign land. They had
forgotten their native language, but most of all they had forgotten God.
As a result their lives were in great distress. These people see the connection
between the sins of their own hearts and their distressful situation. They
see their slavery as a result of their own sin. They see the relevancy
of sin to their own lives. They have experienced its destruction. As they
lay there on rock bottom flat on their backs looking up, they began to
realize that God has a wonderful message of salvation. It is in his joy
that they can find strength to put their lives back together.
Now they are going to
see the relevancy of the Word of God to their lives and experience the
joyful strength of the Lord as their salvation.
The Joy of Returning
to the Word of God
Someone suggested the
way we will bring America back to God is to write your congressman, vote
and seek to change legislation. But a revival begins with the Word of God
not with politics. It also begins with personal lives rather than the body
of Christ of large.
The people from the
captivity have assembled as one person in the square before the Water Gate.
It is here that they ask Ezra to bring out the Book of the Law of
Moses and read it to them.
When the seventh month
came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled
as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe
to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded
for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought
the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all
who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as
he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women
and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively
to the Book of the Law.
As Ezra stood on a high
wooden platform built for the occasion, everyone's attention is focused
on him. He opens the Book of the Law of Moses and all the people stood
up. Ezra blessed the Lord the Great God and all the people answered Amen,
Amen. Then they bowed down, worshipping the Lord with their faces to the
Nehemiah 8:8 says, "They
read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning
so that the people could understand what was being read." They spoke the
message of God in a language they could understand. The people had grown
up in captivity in a foreign country. They had adapted by learning the
language of the land of their captivity. They didn't understand the Hebrew
language in which the Law of Moses was written. They needed interpreters
to make the message distinctive, understandable and relevant.
Ezra read from
the book of the law of God distinctly. The priest went through
the crowds giving the sense of the message. The Bible has meaning, and
it has a distinct message for our lives. There is absolutely no doubt that
they saw the relevancy of the message to their lives because they are presently
experiencing the fulfillment of God's promises to them. God's word begins
to make sense to them, for they see themselves in it.
As we study the Bible
we can see God's concern and care for his people. Jeremiah had prophesied
the very destruction that the Israelites were now suffering as we read
the book of Nehemiah. Yet, in the same breath Jeremiah gives them a promise
that their mourning will turn to a morning of joy. He promises to bring
them from the land of captivity and he describes how they will return.
Jeremiah 31:8-9, 16
"Behold, I will bring
them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth,
and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that
travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither. They
shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead
I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters
in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father
to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn . . . Thus saith the LORD;
Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work
shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land
of the enemy.
What a relevant message
of care and hope God's word reveals. The book of Nehemiah reveals the fulfillment
of Jeremiah's prophesy. God is leading them with supplications .
. . that means he is caring for them. He is causing them to walk by rivers
of water in a straight way and they are not stumbling . . . that means
that God is sustaining them . . . for He is their Father. The Israelites
are experiencing the joyous realities of the fulfillment of Jeremiah's
prophecy. They are experiencing the relevancy of the message.
The Joy of the Lord
is Your Strength
The joy of the Lord
becomes our strength as we realize that we can only come to God from where
we are. As they stand there with their lives in shambles they are mourning
over their sins. They were not told "I told you so" or "you should have
known better" or "look what a mess your life is in" or "the next time you
had better do better." But they are told "Go and enjoy choice food and
sweet drinks . . . This day is sacred to the Lord. Do not grieve,
for the joy of the Lord is your strength . . . The priests calmed
the people and said, " . . . this is a sacred day, Do not grieve . . .
then the people went away to eat and drink . . . and to celebrate because
they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
When they understood
the message of salvation, Nehemiah says, "Then all the people went away
to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great
joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known
to them. (8:9-12)
This day is sacred
to the Lord. It was the joy of the Lord that made this such a sacred
day. God had deliberately led them to this moment in time. It wasn't
a day of good fortune or good luck. It was the day of the Lord!
The Israelites were returning to God on this special day. The Jews were
not the only ones celebrating. There was a celebration in heaven, as the
angels in heaven are gathered around rejoicing over all these sinners coming
Now the tax collectors
and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees
and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats
with them." Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has
a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine
in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And
when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then
he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me;
I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will
be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine
righteous persons who do not need to repent.
The people were
told "do not grieve." The most sacred day in a person's life is
when he/she weeps as the relevancy of the Word of God is being made known
to them. This was also a sacred day for the Lord. Weeping was only for
a moment. The Psalmist writes, "Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise
his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a
lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in
the morning." (Psalms 30:4-5)
of joy comes when we realize that
we have put our lives together wrong and begin to discover God's instructions
on how to take our lives apart and rebuild them. When the Word of God is
opened up and understood, people begin to understand themselves. It is
through knowing God that you begin to come to know yourself. After all
you are made in God's image. It is here that you can discover the joy of
the Lord as your strength to recover your losses.
They now understood
the words that had been made known to them. The people heard the
message explained in their own language. It was a simple
message and it was a relevant message. The message revealed that the joy
of the Lord is their strength.
Joy comes when we discover, "All Scripture
is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training
in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for
every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
It is difficult to build
upon what is right until you confirm what is wrong. It is the wrong that
keeps us on rock bottom. As we come to the Bible seeking God's instruction
he rebukes the wrong in our lives and teaches us the correct way to live.
We don't like to be rebuked, it usually brings mourning, but God must teach
us his ways in order that our lives can be put back on the proper course.
The design of God's Word is to train and equip us in what is right, so
that we might work at building a good life.
God's Word is designed
to change our minds about the way we are living. If we listen it will bring
us to a mourning of joy.
Verse 12 of chapter 8 says,
"Then all the people went away to eat
and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because
they now understood the words that had been made known to them."
The Joy of Their
message of repentance runs through out the Bible.We don't like
negative messages and initially repentance comes across as a negative message,
but it is the only thing that can lead us to a very positive step forward.
When we take that step into God's will, we discover that our strength is
the joy of the Lord.
says, "Except you repent . . . you will perish." Until we approach God
with an attitude of repentance, the Bible's message for us will remain
forever foreign. There is a dire need for the world to change the direction
it is headed. A change of direction only comes through changing our minds
about where we are headed. It requires knowing and acknowledging what is
wrong with our lives.
Turning to God
in repentance always creates a joyous hunger for more. It is in
turning to God that we realize our emptiness. There was a void in Israel's
life that mere brick and mortar could not fill. They had experienced the
famine that Amos had prophesied to Israel before the Babylonian captivity,
"The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD, 'when I will send a
famine through the land-- not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but
a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to
sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD,
but they will not find it'. In that day 'the lovely young women and strong
young men will faint because of thirst.'" (Amos 8:11-13) As a result of
this experience they are hungry and they begin to feast upon God's Word.
When we understand the
relevancy of God's word and the joy it is seeking to bring to our lives,
we began to hunger and thirst for more. The joy of their salvation was
so great that they wanted to hear more. After hearing the word of God proclaimed
they are sent away by Ezra to celebrate this sacred occasion. But "On the
second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the
priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention
to the words of the Law." (8:13)
They found written
in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites
were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month and that they
should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem:
"Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild
olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths"--
as it is written. So the people went out and brought back branches and
built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the
courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the
one by the Gate of Ephraim. The whole company that had returned from exile
built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until
that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their
joy was very great. Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra
read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast
for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation,
there was an assembly.
As they were returning
their lives to the Word of God they found even more reason to rejoice in
their salvation. As they began their journey through the Word of
God, they began rediscovering how God had led their fathers out of Egypt
into the wilderness. There he sustained them as they lived in makeshift
booths for forty years. It was there that the Feast of Tabernacles came
into being. Their fathers, in accordance with the Law of Moses, had set
aside a week each year when all the Israelites would dwell in booths as
a memorial to God's sustenance in the wilderness. As they were reading
the Law, they realized that the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated at
this very time of the year. So they began, right then and there, restoring
the worship of God through a celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. They
celebrated for seven days and on the eighth day according to the Law there
was an assembly of all the people.
As they read the Word
of God, their understanding and appreciation for God increase. You can't
celebrate what God has done for you without appreciating what he has done
for you. You can't appreciate what God has done for you without celebrating.
The deeper the appreciation, the greater the joy. They celebrated what
God had done for them through their forefathers as he brought them to the
Land of Promise. The beauty of this scene is that they rediscover God.
What would happen if
we could just put aside all our misinformation about God and his Word?
Think about what happened to the Israelites as they return to God through
the teaching of his Word. The same could happen for us as we endeavor to
build out lives on the Word of God.
True Praise Results
when Our Mourning Turns to Joy
On the twenty-fourth
day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing
sackcloth and having dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had
separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and
confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. They stood where
they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a
quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping
the LORD their God.
They stood where
they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a
quarter of the day. Worship always begins as we approach
God through his Word.
"They stood in
their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers."
They spent a quarter of the day just studying the word of God. They spent
another quarter of a day confessing their sins. In Nehemiah 9:37 it says,
"Because of our sins . . . .We are in great distress." Their confession
is unbelievable and their remorse is even more unbelievable. As they stand
there praying and confessing they are dressed in sackcloth and have dust
sprinkled on their heads . . . these were signs of great remorse, but they
were also signs of great distress. They are brought face to face with their
God! God has been revealed. Their lives are turned around and they are
led into the presence of God praising his name. That is the purpose of
They understand their
terrible condition as they journey back to God. They see their sin and
shame, but more importantly, they understand God's joyous message of salvation.
At this they burst out in praise. You really can't understand and know
how to worship and praise God until you realize the distress your sins
has cause you and those in your world.
"The joy of the Lord
is your strength." This phrase is pregnant with meaning. It cuts
like a two edged sword. It is the Lord's joy that is our strength. It is
his rejoicing that gives reason to rejoice. It is his joy that fills us
with hope. It is his joyous wish to save me just as I am, in spite of all
my sins. It is God's joy to stand me back upon my feet and strengthen my
feeble legs and wobbly knees so that I might discover his joy as my strength.
It is truly a sacred day in heaven when a sinner discovers that "the joy
of the Lord is his strength."
"The joy of the Lord"
remains our strength today. His faithfulness continues throughout all generations.
For his kingdom extends from generation to generation. Today we see God
from a much different vantagepoint. But he is still the same faithful God.
As we look back to Abraham from the cross, we see God's continued faithfulness
to the promise he made to Abraham. Today that same God seeks to bless all
men through Jesus Christ the seed of promise to Abraham. He seeks to fulfill
the promise he made to Abraham that all the families of the earth would
be blessed through his seed. But we must commit our lives to him.
It is great to
realize that no matter how bad things get, the joy of the Lord will forever
be our hope and strength to return to the Lord.