Nehemiah 8:10

‘“the joy of Yahweh is your strength”’
(Nehemiah 8:10)

A ‘cheerful heart makes good medicine’(Proverbs 17:22), and God (i.e. ‘“Yahweh”’ here) is the ultimate source of joy, something we perhaps easily forget? In fact an atmosphere of joy permeates His whole Trinity, like when ‘Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I thank you, O Father”’(Luke 10:21). The ‘“joy of Yahweh”’ should characterise His people too. Paul famously urged the Philippian Christians: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, “Rejoice!”’(Philippians 4:4). Here ‘Nehemiah… Ezra… and the Levites’(Nehemiah 8:9ff.) are urging the newly returned Jewish exiles to do the same. Helpfully, they point out that joy should especially characterise days set apart as ‘“holy to Yahweh… our Lord”’(Nehemiah 8:9-10). However, seeing ourselves in the light of His truth might initially cut us ‘to the heart’(Acts 2:37), so that we’re ‘“grieved”’(Nehemiah 8:10&11), as appears to have been the case here.

There’s an important place for ‘godly sorrow’(2 Corinthians 7:10) though, as part of repentance. A few weeks after the rejoicing here, at a more sombre gathering, ‘the children of Israel… assembled with fasting, with sackcloth… and confessed their sins’(Nehemiah 9:1-3ff.). Even so, appropriate as that might be, our gracious God draws alongside us ‘“to revive the heart of the contrite”’(Isaiah 57:15). His ‘anger is but for a moment. His favour… for a lifetime. Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning’(Psalm 30:5). We must welcome this dawn, to sing: ‘You have turned my mourning into dancing… removed my sackcloth, and clothed me with gladness… that my heart may sing praise to you… Yahweh my God, I will give thanks to you forever!’(Psalm 30:11-12).

That was certainly appropriate for the Israelites here, newly restored from their exile by our ‘“gracious and merciful God”’(Nehemiah 9:31). We similarly can ‘rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have… received… reconciliation’(Romans 5:11), in other words ‘rejoice greatly with joy… receiving… salvation’(1 Peter 1:8-9), blessed with ‘the oil of joy for mourning… [as] trees of righteousness, the planting of Yahweh, that He may be glorified’(Isaiah 61:3), all through ‘Jesus’(Luke 4:14ff. & Ephesians 2:10).

In this we can find further joy in obedience, as we delight ‘greatly in His commandments’(Psalm 112:1) discovering that ‘Yahweh’s precepts are right, rejoicing the heart’(Psalm 19:8). Interestingly, this study verse is actually a command to be joyful, as with Paul’s ‘“Rejoice!”’(Philippians 4:4) mentioned above. So we mustn’t simply be sorrowful. It has its place, but we’re to cultivate joy as well, as a form of obedience, with God’s help.

Very practically, He ‘richly provides us with everything to enjoy’(1 Timothy 6:17), like food and ‘“sweet”’(Nehemiah 8:10) beverages, ‘to eat… drink… and… celebrate’(Nehemiah 8:12) with at feasts and festivals, like here and in the days that followed, with ‘very great gladness’(Nehemiah 8:17). We can find joy feasting further on His ‘sweet… to… taste’(Psalm 119:103) ‘words’(Nehemiah 8:12) too, like Jeremiah who ‘ate them’(Jeremiah 15:16) to find joy in being one of God’s people, however challenging his life turned out to be, perhaps like Paul, ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing’(2 Corinthians 6:10). Ultimately this overcomer’s ‘joy’(James 1:2ff. cf. Romans 5:3ff.) derives from the presence of God with us, where there’s always ‘fullness of joy’(Psalm 16:11), and through His Spirit even ‘“in”’(John 14:17) us, cultivating Holy Spirit ‘joy’(Galatians 5:22).

That leads nicely to the strength that comes from this ‘“joy of Yahweh”’. The word ‘“strength”’ here could be translated ‘stronghold’ or even ‘helmet’ – i.e. stronghold of the head, rather like the ‘helmet of salvation’(Ephesians 6:7) from which it’s partly derived. From such a position of ‘strength’(Psalm 27:1ff.), rejoicing in our assured ‘victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’(1 Corinthians 15:57), we can be ‘strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might’(Ephesians 6:10ff.), fired up with joy, then offer back, like David, our ‘sacrifices of joy’(Psalm 27:6) – such ‘abundance of… joy’(2 Corinthians 8:2) can well up into many different forms of sacrificial service, only to stoke it further.

This can especially help in our ongoing battles against ‘temptation’(1 Corinthians 10:13). A great ‘way of escape’(1 Corinthians 10:13) is to drink from this ‘abundance… the river of… pleasure’(Psalm 36:8) that flows from God, finding joy, delight and satisfaction in His ‘spring of life’(Psalm 36:9), this becoming even our only ‘desire’(Psalm 73:25).

Ultimately, however, we ‘rejoice in hope of the glory of God’(Romans 5:2) in eternity, like Jesus, who ‘for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross’(Hebrews 12:2). So we press on, ‘rejoicing in hope; enduring in troubles’(Romans 12:12). Then one day we’ll join Him at that ultimate ‘“feast in God’s Kingdom”’(Luke 14:15) singing ‘“Let’s rejoice and be exceedingly glad”’(Revelation 19:7, cf. v9)!

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