“The joy of the Lord is your strength“! It’s a much-loved Bible verse, often sung and often quoted. Countless families have a wall plaque hanging somewhere in their home with this verse as the theme. However, when this verse is read in context, its wisdom becomes clear.
The children of Israel had been in exile for decades. The majority of the deportees had forgotten who they were. They had forgotten their sacred writings. A godly man, named Nehemiah, hadn’t forgotten his people and used the favour he had with the royal court to obtain permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild its ancient walls. After the walls had been restored, Nehemiah gathered all those who worked on the walls as well as the other Jews who remained in Israel after the exile.
Nehemiah instructed the priests to read the sacred writings of his nation to the crowd gathered. As the priests read the Torah, people began to weep as they realised just how far they had fallen and how greatly they had missed the mark. Nehemiah commanded them to do something that seemed completely contrary to the standard repentance protocol of his time. Stop weeping, start rejoicing!
Nehemiah 8:9-12 – They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.”
For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Biblical joy is not necessarily defined as the giddy, light-hearted, frothy emotion you feel when your team wins the Superbowl. Our joy is much meatier than that; it has substance. It has endurance; it is sturdy enough to gird us up through even the darkest of days. This joy sustains us even as we face the hard truths about our circumstances and just how we arrived in those circumstances.
Enduring joy is not a product of our past, present or future situations. It is a heart choice; it is born from a revelation of what Christ accomplished on the cross. Enduring joy rests on the sure hope that in the end, no matter how difficult our present circumstances might be, we are more than conquerers.
Let’s follow Christ’s example, who endured the cross for the joy set before Him. He knew that joy would come in the morning.
Hebrews 12:1-3 – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
All Bible verses, unless otherwise attributed, are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Until Next Week
©2016 Katherine Walden
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