I always enjoy reading and coming across a familiar phrase in the Bible. I also enjoy taking a moment to see how the phrase was used in the context of what was going on. A popular phrase in school was and is “context is king.” You may remember that I have been reading through the Bible chronologically and it has been fascinating to track with the Israelites from a united kingdom to a divided kingdom and now from being taken to captive to being released back to their promised land. Here we have Nehemiah returning to Jerusalem to see that the wall of the city is rebuilt with a third wave of Jewish exiles. Nehemiah walked in a steadfastness that really has inspired me in the trust he had in who God was and what God had put in his heart. He knew he had to obey the task the Lord placed on his heart.
Governing the land, Nehemiah was quick to correct and defend God’s Word and God’s people. His courage inspired others to follow his lead in not cowering to the pressures of onlookers, but to continue to walk confidently in the Lord. As the people rediscovered the truth of God’s word they responded with eyes open and an awareness of far off the path of righteousness they had wandered. As Ezra read the word it says in chapter 8.3 that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.”
As the spotlight displayed their guilt and shortcomings, the people responded with grief over their actions and how their hearts and deeds offended God. And although a proper response to have a heart-felt awareness of how our sin effects God, others and ourselves, they were not to stay in grief. Because of God’s great mercy and love for us, God’s desire is for full restoration. To be restored seems to be more than being aware of what is wrong. Nehemiah instructed the people to stop mourning and to celebrate. To recognize the day as holy to the Lord and to feast and receive the renewal that God was offering. Verse 10 explains, “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” The paragraph closes up with that the people departed with rejoicing because they understood the words that were declared to them. They understood God’s word and His heart. They were reunited in a right relationship with God by turning from their sin and receiving God’s forgiveness and restoration.
There is a great truth in the fact that “the joy of the LORD is my strength.” But there is a richer meaning to me after having reflected on what Nehemiah was going through when he expressed it. I am reminded of Psalm 51.12 after David’s repentance he looked to the LORD for restoration and cried out, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” This tie of experiencing the joy of the LORD that is beyond external circumstances has a tie with a repentive heart that has received forgiveness.
May the joy of the LORD be your strength.