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.” Nehemiah 8: 10
Don’t you love the sun shining through after a summer storm? The air feels so much fresher, everything looks so much greener and more alive, the raindrops sparkle like gems on the leaves and the flowers, and the birds sing so much sweeter! After the darkness comes the light.
Aren’t our tears the same way when after a time of sadness, our hearts are cleansed and we are able to see God’s hope shining through once again? In Psalm 30:5, we read, “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”. So many times our joy and sorrow seem to walk one before the other. For how can we know sorrow if we haven’t known joy first? And how can we know true joy if there hasn’t been sadness? How grateful we can be that there is always the promise of joy in the future in the midst of our tears as we lean upon our loving God.
There is no more beautiful example of this than in Nehemiah, Chapter 8. It is said to be “one of the most joyful and magnificent celebrations of the work of God in the Old Testament.” During this time, God’s people have been allowed to return to their homeland after the Babylonian captivity, the city of Jerusalem has been rebuilt, and Nehemiah, the Persian king’s cupbearer, received permission to return and rebuild the city gates and walls to secure their safety.
When this was completed, Ezra, the priest and scribe stood before the people with the scroll of the Word of God, and read to them “from daybreak to noon. . . Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and the people bowed down and worshiped Him with their faces to the ground”.
As they listened, they began to weep as they realized the grief their waywardness had brought to God. They repented sorrowfully for turning their backs on Him when He had provided for them in such loving, abundant ways.
Then Nehemiah, who had become their governor, said these words to them: “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.”
As they were reminded of God’s provisions and blessings upon them, their hearts became filled with overwhelming joy. They began to understand what it meant to be forgiven, cleansed, accepted, and even loved after all their sinfulness. They became conscious of their worth before God and they felt confident of facing an uncertain future, but one with Him by their side. It gave them a sense of well-being, protection, approval, and freedom from all of life’s cares. And with these revelations came the most satisfying joy and an empowering strength they had never known.
This joy and, consequently, its strength can be ours, as well. We are not left on our own to find this much desired joy in our lives. God gives it to us through His love for us. It is not a fleeting emotion that comes and goes as happiness often does, but it is a life force that lives within us and gives us peace and contentment. All the attributes that make up who God is can bring well-springs of joy to our hearts. Being in awe of His greatness and His love for us for all eternity is enough to make our eyes overflow with tears of gratitude.
In contemplating who God is and finding joy in His presence, we become stronger. We realize that He is our rock, our fortress,and the stability in our lives that holds us grounded and secure. We realize that we can stand firm in assurance and trust that He will always be with us no matter what we face. It overrides our fear and worry, and the joy flows through our spirits with a supernatural strength. What a beautiful promise that can be ours – “the joy of the Lord is our strength.”
Our most gracious and loving God, thank you for the inexpressible joy, peace, and strength we can find in you. May we keep your Word and its truths close to our hearts, share it with others, and always rely on your loving presence. Amen