There are a number of interesting scenes presented in the book of Nehemiah. One, often overlooked, is found in chapter 8.
People were gathered in an open square to hear God’s word read to them. Ezra was the reader and it was an extensive reading, to say the least. All morning long he read. And, people listened attentively (Nehemiah 8:3). With reverence, people stood. Careful explanation was given to be certain the hearers understood the meaning of what was read (Nehemiah 8:8).
The reaction of the people would lead us to conclude they saw glaring faults and failures in their lives. God’s word does that to us sometimes. It is like a mirror in which we come face to face with our imperfections. There is value in repentance when that happens.
But, the encouragement given to the people by Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites might seem surprising. Nehemiah 8:9 says, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” And, Nehemiah 8:10 adds, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Scripture affirms again and again the connection between joy and God. Ps. 5:11
tells us, “. . . let all those rejoice who put their trust in You . . .” Ps. 9:2, “I will be glad and rejoice in You . . .” Ps. 16:11, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” You could add Ps. 32:11, 33:1, and 40:16 to the list.
Where should you and I look for strength? In possessions? In good health? In politics? Paul knew the answer. Even writing from a prison, he would encourage readers, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” With emphasis, he added, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice.” (Phil. 3:1, 4:4)
This is not to say we find no joy in good health, good friends, good food. But, it is to say that real and lasting joy comes from the One who is our true strength. Even now, in our present distress, we can say with joy,
“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Rom. 8:37)